LOS ANGELES — July 26, 2010 — Relationships between elder and younger members of a family can be strained and positive and negative in nature, even when affection is shared. A new study from the Journal of Marriage and Family finds that long-term caretaking duties puts further strain on adult parent-child relationships.
Authors of the first international comparative study of its kind, analyzed levels of affection and conflict among more than 2,600 parents and children in six developed nations: England, Germany, Israel, Norway, Spain and the U.S. They found that certain nations have developed prevalent, acceptable ways of behaving towards their elders, but that long-term interdependence and heavy care-taking responsibility introduces a major challenge to the relationship.
The authors identified key conditions that influence and inform levels of ambivalence, including affection, conflict, economic development, education, gender, number of siblings, residence situation, marital status, and cultural values. Lead author Dr. Merril Silverstein explains, “Caretaking situations due to a lack of welfare pose particular challenges to parent-child relationships. Citizens of nations with a more evolved welfare system tend to experience less conflict when faced with illness and long-term medical care situations. However, a healthy sense of interdependence can also encourage affection. We have found that apathy can be much more detrimental than conflict to close, personal, familial relationships. In general, older parents are more likely to report on the positive and affectionate qualities of the relationship than the child.”
British participants displayed notable traits of amicability, and avoidance of conflict, with an emphasis on cordialness. Germany and Spain showed a sense of detachment towards their elders and highly valued honesty. The United States demonstrated disharmonious characteristics; children expressed more independent and individualistic thinking than their European counterparts. Israel revealed mixed emotions towards senior members of their community, which the authors hypothesize is caused by paradoxical familial, social, and political elements at work within their socio-political environment.
Dr. Silverstein concludes, “Our study provides support for arguing the universality of the dynamics in the intergenerational family relationship in developed Western nations, and the importance of considering the larger social, political, and cultural context in evaluating these relationships.”
Data for this study came from two sources, both of which focused on participants based in urban communities: the five-nation, European Commission funded study known as Old Age and Autonomy: The Role of Service Systems and Intergenerational Family Solidarity (OASIS), and the Longitudinal Study of Generations (LSOG), concentrated in Southern California. Both data sets featured levels of closeness, amicability, communication styles, conflict, critical behavior, and frequency of arguments. The results were measured by degree of amicability, detachment, disharmony, and ambivalence.
This study is published in the August 2010 issue of The Journal of Marriage and Family. To request a full-text version of this article please contact [email protected].
To view an abstract of this article please visit http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/123580907/abstract.
Article: “Older Parent-Child Relationships in Six Developed Nations: Comparisons at the Intersection of Affection and Conflict.” Merril Silverstein, et.al. Journal of Marriage and Family; Published Online: July 9, 2010 (DOI:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00745.x).
Merril Silverstein, Ph.D. is a Professor of Gerontology & Sociology at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. He is a recipient of a FIRST Award from the National Institute of Aging to study grand parenting over the life-course, and a grant from the NIH Fogarty International Center to initiate a longitudinal study aging families in rural China. He can be reached for questions at [email protected].
About the Journal: For more than 70 years, Journal of Marriage and Family (JMF) has been a leading research journal in the family field. JMF features original research and theory, research interpretation and reviews, and critical discussion concerning all aspects of marriage, other forms of close relationships, and families. In 2009, an institutional subscription to Journal of Marriage and Family includes a subscription to Family Relations and Journal of Family Theory & Review.
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