Two Views of One Relationship: Comparing Parents' and Young Adult Children's Reports of the Quality of Intergenerational Relations

By Aquilino, William S. | Journal of Marriage and Family, November 1999 | Go to article overview

Two Views of One Relationship: Comparing Parents' and Young Adult Children's Reports of the Quality of Intergenerational Relations


Aquilino, William S., Journal of Marriage and Family


Patterns of agreement and disagreement on the quality of intergenerational relationships were explored in a sample of parents and young adult children. Data on parent-child closeness, contact, control, and conflict were taken from parent and child interviews in the longitudinal National Survey of Families and Households. Parents gave more positive reports than their adult child on six of the eight relationship indicators where parent and child answered identical questions. Parents were especially likely to report higher levels of closeness. Three patterns of dyadic agreement were identified: high agreement (54%), parent more positive than child (25%), and child more positive than parent (21%). Despite these differences in perspective, regression models predicting intergenerational closeness and conflict were nearly invariant across the parent and child data.

Key Words: intergenerational relations, measurement validity, multiple informants.

The choice of informant for data collection has become an increasingly critical issue in research on intergenerational relationships. There have been relatively few studies of systematic differences in the perspectives of family members and the factors that affect the level of agreement in self-report studies (Tein, Roosa, & Michaels, 1994). The degree to which the choice of informant alters the results of research is poorly understood. In this article, I compare the perspectives of parents and their children who are making the transition to adulthood. Paired data from the longitudinal National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) are used to estimate differences between the reports of parents and young adult children on emotional closeness, contact, control, and conflict in their relationship. The intent is not only to describe differences, but to test multivariate models predicting the circumstances under which divergent perspectives are most likely to occur and to assess the influence of divergent perspectives on research outcomes.

RATIONALE

A recent study of preadolescent children and their parents suggests that the point of view reflected in self-report data is an important aspect of research design. Tein et al. (1994) found little evidence of cross-generational, convergent validity on five subscales of the Child's Report of Parental Behavior Inventory (CRPBI). Correlations between parent and child reports were quite low, ranging from .13 to .36 (with most in the .20-25 range). Level of agreement was linked to child's age (lower parentchild agreement among older children), family size (less agreement in families with three or more children), and child's well-being (lower agreement among more depressed children). Similarly, correlations between college freshmen and their parents on subscales of the CRPBI were also found to be quite low (Schwarz, Barton-Henry, & Pruzinsky, 1985) with correlations between mothers and children ranging from .30 to .40 and between fathers and children from. 19 to .29. Tein et al. concluded that researchers should not aggregate across the reports of multiple family members but should consider conducting a separate analysis for each family informant.

The generational stake theory (Acock & Bengtson, 1980; Bengtson & Kuypers, 1971) may help in understanding why the reports of parents and young adult children differ. This theory emphasizes the different psychological needs of the two generations who are at contrasting points of the life cycle. Youth tend to emphasize conflict with parents and exaggerate differences in order to achieve a clearer sense of emancipation and to facilitate separation from the family of origin. "Each generation has an investment in the generational bond. But, for youth, the 'stake' is more toward maximizing a sense of separate identity; for parents, the investment pays off in maximizing continuity" (Acock & Bengtson, p. 512). Young adult children may have little motivation to put a positive spin on relationships with parents. …

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