Responsiveness to increasing parental needs: the role of normative beliefs and relationship quality

Pearl Dykstra, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Tineke Fokkema, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI)

The increasing diversity and complexity of family ties has been accompanied by a shift in normative commitments. Though relationships between parents and children are founded on a sense of obligation, there is considerable variation as to exactly what children should do for their aging parents. Filial support giving is increasingly individualized, subject to negotiation and strongly dependent on the history of the parent-child relationship. The purpose of the study is to examine the role of norms of filial obligation and relationship quality as motivators of supportive behavior. The normative solidarity hypothesis suggests that adult children who strongly endorse norms of filial obligation are most likely to respond to parental needs by providing support. The individualization hypothesis suggests that the better the quality of the parent-child relationship, the more likely adult children are to respond to parental needs by providing support. Longitudinal multi-actor data from the public release file of the Netherlands Kinship Panel Study are used. The respondents are 777 adult children, and a randomly selected father (N=292) or mother (N=485). We examine responsiveness to increasing parental needs, indicated by widowhood and a decline in health between T1 (2002-2003) and T2 (2006-2007). We use adult children’s reports of filial obligations, relationship quality and provided support. We use parents’ reports of health status. Multi-actor data provide a stronger test of responsiveness to needs than data collected among adult children only. Findings show increased levels of support at T2 to parents whose health deteriorated, and to widowed mothers. Adult children who more strongly endorsed filial norms provided increasingly more support to their parents, but less so with regard to mothers whose health deteriorated. Affection was a better predictor of T2 support to fathers than to mothers. Overall, the findings suggest that supporting older fathers is more strongly individualized than supporting older mothers.

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Presented in Session 5: Ageing and intergenerational relationships