Academic journal article Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics

The Role of Social Context in Shaping Intergenerational Relations in Indonesia and Bangladesh

Academic journal article Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics

The Role of Social Context in Shaping Intergenerational Relations in Indonesia and Bangladesh

Article excerpt

The question of how intergenerational relationships change as economies develop has been given considerable attention in the theoretical literature. It is also of practical importance. Most developing countries will experience a doubling of the proportion of the population age 60 and above in the coming decades, but do not have public institutions in place that provide old-age support.

Cross-society comparisons provide an important way to gain insights into spatial variations in intergenerational relations, but have been relatively underused in research on aging (National Research Council, 2001). In this paper, we take advantage of differences between rural Bangladesh and Indonesia in the nature of family organization to examine the roles that sons and daughters play in intergenerational exchange.

Our comparison offers several strengths. The two data sets we analyze contain unusually detailed information on the occurrence and magnitude of exchanges with all adult children, and on characteristics of children and their parents. Moreover, the data sets are nearly identical with respect to content, and so our comparison is relatively free from differences that often hamper comparative work. Additionally, rural Bangladesh and the Indonesian island of Java are remarkably similar on a number of background features one would like to hold constant, such as religion and many aspects of the nature and organization of the agricultural sector. The countries differ, however, in two key ways. First, Bangladesh and Indonesia are fundamentally different with respect to systems of family organization, with relationships being far more patriarchal in Bangladesh. Second, economic development has proceeded more rapidly in Indonesia than in Bangladesh.

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

Modernization theory is perhaps the most influential sociological theory regarding changes in intergenerational relationships over time. According to this theory, the family's role in providing assistance to its members changes as agriculture wanes in importance, industry rises, and ideas from the West gain prominence (Caldwell, 1976,1978; Cowgill, 1974,1986; Dharmalingam, 1994; Goode, 1963). These changes occur for a number of interrelated reasons.

As industry becomes a more prominent and lucrative source of employment, the basis of economic success shifts from family connections to individual achievement (Parsons, 1943; Turke, 1989). The industrial sector preferentially hires those who are educated and willing to migrate. Education itself exposes individuals to ideas that may contradict traditional wisdom (Caldwell, 1976). These changes are hypothesized to increase the physical and emotional distance between parents and adult children, eventually reducing the extent to which adult children provide for their parents in old age.1

This theory developed in part on the basis of comparisons of societies characterized as traditional agrarian with societies that in the course of development became more industrial, technological, and modern. Such comparisons obscure differences across traditional agrarian societies that affect intergenerational exchange. Developing societies vary considerably with respect to systems of family organization, for example, and these systems have important implications for intergenerational relationships (Goode, 1963; Mason, 1992; Parsons, 1943,1946; Skinner, 1997).

For intergenerational exchange, two aspects of family organization strongly affect the nature of connections between parents and adult children after children marry, and the extent to which parent-child connections vary by the child's sex or birth order. One factor is whether an individual's kinship group is traced through his or her father, mother, or both parents, because this affects each gender's relative importance in perpetuating the lineage and conditions expectations about the degree of emotional connections between parents and adult children over the life course. …

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