Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Change of Generational Relations Based on Demographic Development: The Case of Germany

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Change of Generational Relations Based on Demographic Development: The Case of Germany

Article excerpt


Demographic index numbers have a great influence on structure and development of generational relations. Birth, marriage, separation and divorce as well as becoming widowed and death are variables which substantially determine family and partnership structures (Hogan, 1985; Levi-Bacci, 1979; Teachman et al., 2000). Divorced individuals, for example, who remarry in their sixth decade of life, will rarely develop intensive relations to the parents of their new partners. With the presently discussed metaphor of the 'Sandwich-Generation' the demographic influence on family relations is highlighted as well. Due to a lengthened life expectancy a demographically caused situation has developed in which at least three generations are living simultaneously: the middle generation of adults, their children and their parents. The metaphor 'Sandwich-Generation' refers to the middle generation, especially the middle female generation, because their family relations are shaped by the simultaneous responsibility for child care and care for the elderly family members (Horl/Kytir, 1998; Kiinemund, 2000).

In the second half of the 20th century for Germany three demographic developments influencing the generational relations are significant:

* the change of timing of childbirth in the life-course,

* the lengthening of life expectancy, and

* the increasing numbers of separations and divorces.

Thereby the changes of the age at which children are born influence the generational distance and also the socialisation of the coming generation. In addition, the age at which children are born, together with an extended life expectancy do influence the simultaneous life span of family generations. Finally, separation and divorce in families with children often add strongly to impairing the generational relations.

The following text will show in which ways the above mentioned developments have changed the generational distance, the common life-time of family generations and which impact divorces have on the generational relations. However, it deals with the probable chance of having generational relations, not with the concrete contacts between the generations or the quality of generational relations.1


First, Figure 1 shows - from the children's point of view - in which ways at their births the age of mothers has changed for subsequent age-groups. With the age-classes from around 1900 to the end of the 1930s children had comparatively old mothers, who were - with little variation - 28 to 29 years old. Mothers of the age-classes of World War II were even older, with a generational distance of more than 29 years. In the post war age-classes this generational distance decreased continuously up to the children born in the Eighties of last century whose mothers were, on average, approximately 26 years old. In the age-classes of the last two decades we find again a significant increase in the generational distance which, in the meantime, amounts to 29 years.

The generational distance comes off two demographic developments: that of the change in the family-founding age and that of the number of children. A high age at family foundation increases the generational distance. At a given age of family foundation, the same is true for a high number of children. During the first four decades of the 20th century the continuous reduction of the number of children was superimposed by a temporary increase of the familyfounding age. During World War II, the increase of the generational distance due to the more difficult conditions for partner selection corresponds with an according later family-founding. In the post-war time, up to the 1980s, the continuing reduction of the number of children as well as the further advancing of family foundation to an earlier age attribute to the reduction of the generational distance. In the last decades, with more or less constant numbers of children in families, the family-founding age has drastically increased. …

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