Divorce and intergenerational family obligations. Past research and current patterns in the Netherlands.

Belinda Wijckmans, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Jan Van Bavel, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Due to increased longevity a higher number of family members across generations share more living years than ever before. At the same time, because of declining fertility rates the number of family members within each generation has dropped. Family members are still an important source of informal support to one another. However, research has indicated that divorce, either in the parent or the adult child generation, often weakens the ties between adult children and their parents and notably the exchange of support in both directions. Although norms and attitudes are not completely ignored, most research on intergenerational support has focused on actual transfers between generations. However, studying attitudes and values about intergenerational support can give important insights into the rationale behind that behavior and may also help explaining how feelings of mutual responsibility are distributed within families. Using data from the first wave of the Netherlands Kinship Panel Study (NKPS) we examined how divorce and repartnering in either generation affect attitudes towards intergenerational support. The results show that divorce is positively related to the attitudinal outcome concerning family obligations, even after controlling for the actual transfers of support between the generations and the perceived quality of the relationship. These results suggest that having experienced loss through divorce, either from a parent or a partner, and the hardships a divorce might bring with it, result in stronger feelings of family obligations, regardless of the actual behaviour individuals show. Further analyses will be conducted, including the second wave of the Netherlands Kinship Panel Study (NKPS) to examine a possible causal relationship between divorce and feelings of family obligations. Preliminary results of these analyses will also be presented at the 2010 European Population Conference.

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Presented in Session 5: Ageing and intergenerational relationships