Intergenerational family relations in adulthood: Patterns, variations, and implications in the contemporary United States

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Abstract

Recent research suggests that intergenerational relationsthe relationships between adult children and their parents in particularare becoming increasingly important to Americans. Two main social forces appear to be driving these changes: marital instability and broader demographic shifts. Intergenerational relationships involve both affective ties and more instrumental forms of support such as financial resources or child care. Although actual material assistance tends to be episodic and primarily responsive to specific needs, these relationships appear to be durable and flexible and often fill in when marriage or other emotional attachments deteriorate. As such, intergenerational family relations may reflect adaptations to contemporary, postmodern economic and cultural conditions. Variations in these general patterns and dynamics are also exhibited, the most striking of which are those involving race and class. These variations are driven largely by social structure and position and suggest that intergenerational relations constitute an important and largely hidden aspect of how families contribute to the reproduction of social inequality in society. These findings reinforce the value of extending both scholarly and cultural notions of family beyond the traditional nuclear family model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191-212
Number of pages22
JournalAnnual Review of Sociology
Volume35
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2009

Keywords

  • Kin networks
  • Parentadult child relationships
  • Social support and exchange

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