Conceptual and Theoretical
Perspectives on Generational
Charlotte Chorn Dunham
Vern L. Bengtson
University of Southern California
The problem of generations, particularly for behavioral scientists, involves a complex and multifaceted intellectual agenda. The central issue concerns social consequences of the succession of age groups -- through birth, aging, death, and replacement -- upon social organization and behavior" ( Bengtson, Cutler, Mangen, & Marshall, 1985, p. 304). Concern about the problem is certainly not new; nor are attempts to disentangle the causes and consequences of change and continuity in the context of generational succession. What may be new are the tools contemporary social scientists have begun to utilize in examining the problem of generations.
In 1971, at one of the very first West Virginia University Conferences on Life-Span Development, the general theme addressed personality and socialization (see Baltes & Schaie, 1973). In one of the presentations, the second author of this chapter (at that time a very junior professor and very happy to have been invited) attempted to consolidate the available research evidence concerning generations, intergenerational relations, and socialization. That paper ( Bengtson & Black, 1973) was built around two central themes. First, a major agenda of socialization concerns the creation of family continuity: an ongoing reciprocal process involving negotiations between parents and children. Socialization involves "an interactional confrontation between developing individuals, in which those factors leading to continuity and those leading to change are negotiated" ( Bengtson & Black, 1973 p. 103). Second, it