Academic journal article Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics

Filial Norms and Intergenerational Support in Europe and Israel: A Comparative Perspective

Academic journal article Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics

Filial Norms and Intergenerational Support in Europe and Israel: A Comparative Perspective

Article excerpt

The goal of this chapter is to examine the influence of filial norms, opportunity structures, and emotional bonds between adult children and older parents on their exchanges of support through the use of a unique cross-national design. This will be accomplished based on concepts from four theoretical approaches: retrospective theories (role theory), situational theories (barriers or motivators for solidarity), prospective theories (theory of reasoned action), and mixed theories (social exchange and intergenerational solidarity). The study aims to answer the following questions within and across societies:

1. How strong are the obligations and expectations of intergenerational support?

2. What is the volume and character of intergenerational exchanges of support?

3. What is the impact of filial norms, opportunity structures, and emotional bonds on intergenerational support?

The continued aging of populations, historical increases in longevity, and changes in values toward increased individualism are likely to affect exchange patterns between older parents and adult children. These effects are compounded by a global, political, and economic climate that has reduced government responsibility for elder care and increased pressure on families to provide such care. We have, therefore, good reasons to continue to monitor how intergenerational support patterns develop, and in particular, how societal conditions shape those patterns of support.

Families may choose different coping strategies, based on family values and norms, in response to similar problems and pressures. Likewise, countries may adopt different welfare policies to meet the needs of elders and their families. Thus, it is imperative to study these issues in various cultural contexts using a comparative perspective. This is part of the rationale behind the OASIS1 study, where filial norms and intergenerational support relations are among the topics studied in five countries with different family cultures and social policy traditions.

We assume that families and welfare systems will tend to relate to problems of modernization in different ways, because of past dependency on already established traditions (Alber, 1995; Daatland, 2001). However similar the challenge of population aging may be across nations, there will be room for different ways of relating to this challenge. Each family and country may be expected to place their idiosyncratic mark on their strategic approach to elder care. For example, although general family norms may be similarly strong, in several nations there may be considerable variation in how these norms are enacted (Daatland, 1990; Finch & Mason, 1990; Lowenstein & Katz, 2000; Rossi & Rossi, 1990).


We identify four lines of theorizing about the previously stated issues that can serve as explanations of intergenerational relationships in aging families: retrospective, situational, prospective, and mixed theories.

Retrospective theories are those that highlight early socialization and cultural patterns, as they are expressed in normative variations according to race, ethnicity, and gender. A specific variant of this paradigm is represented by role theory, which is mainly related to gender roles, and to the roles of parents versus the role of children. Role theory may have particular relevance for understanding how filial norms in families are constructed. For example, parents may be more concerned about the welfare of their children than the other way around. Parents may therefore be afraid to burden children, and instead be guided by a norm of independence. Modernization theory, insofar as it highlights the changing role of families (from instrumental to emotional), also belongs to this paradigm.

Other explanations are here-and-now, or situational, and refer to characteristics that are immediate barriers to or motivators of solidarity across generations. …

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