, Volume 51, Issue 5, pp 1703–1728 | Cite as

Beyond Transmission: Intergenerational Patterns of Family Formation Among Middle-Class American Families

  • Anette Eva FasangEmail author
  • Marcel Raab


Research about parental effects on family behavior focuses on intergenerational transmission: that is, whether children show the same family behavior as their parents. This focus potentially overemphasizes similarity and obscures heterogeneity in parental effects on family behavior. In this study, we make two contributions. First, instead of focusing on isolated focal events, we conceptualize parents’ and their children’s family formation holistically as the process of union formation and childbearing between ages 15 and 40. We then discuss mechanisms likely to shape these intergenerational patterns. Second, beyond estimating average transmission effects, we innovatively apply multichannel sequence analysis to dyadic sequence data on middle-class American families from the Longitudinal Study of Generations (LSOG; N = 461 parent-child dyads). The results show three salient intergenerational family formation patterns among this population: a strong transmission, a moderated transmission, and an intergenerational contrast pattern. We examine what determines parents’ and children’s likelihood to sort into a specific intergenerational pattern. For middle-class American families, educational upward mobility is a strong predictor of moderated intergenerational transmission, whereas close emotional bonds between parents and children foster strong intergenerational transmission. We conclude that intergenerational patterns of family formation are generated at the intersection of macro-structural change and family internal psychological dynamics.


Family formation Intergenerational transmission Sequence analysis Demographic trajectories Parent-child dyads 



We thank Editor Pamela Smock, former Editor Stewart Tolnay, and three anonymous reviewers of Demography for detailed and instructive comments that greatly benefited the manuscript. We are indebted to the participants of the writing workshop of the research unit Social Policy and Inequality at the WZB for insightful comments in the early stages of the manuscript. We gratefully acknowledge support from the Center for Research on Inequalities and the Life Course at Yale University and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for a research visit of Marcel Raab in New Haven, where we had the initial idea for this project.

Supplementary material

13524_2014_322_MOESM1_ESM.docx (36 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 35.8 kb)


  1. Aassve, A., Billari, F. C., & Piccarreta, R. (2007). Strings of adulthood: A sequence analysis of young British women’s work-family trajectories. European Journal of Population, 23, 369–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Abbott, A. (1995). Sequence analysis: New methods for old ideas. Annual Review of Sociology, 21, 93–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Abbott, A. (2000). Reply to Levine and Wu. Sociological Methods & Research, 29, 65–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Acock, A. C., & Bengtson, V. L. (1978). On the relative influence of mothers and fathers: A covariance analysis of political and religious socialization. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 40, 519–530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Aisenbrey, S., & Fasang, A. E. (2010). New life for old ideas: The “second wave” of sequence analysis bringing the “course” back into the life course. Sociological Methods & Research, 38, 420–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Amato, P. R. (1996). Explaining the intergenerational transmission of divorce. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 58, 628–640.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Anderton, D. L., Tsuya, N. O., Bean, L. L., & Mineau, G. P. (1987). Intergenerational transmission of relative fertility and life course patterns. Demography, 24, 467–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Barber, J. S. (2000). Intergenerational influences on the entry into parenthood: Mothers’ preferences for family and nonfamily behavior. Social Forces, 79, 319–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bengtson, V. L. (1975). Generation and family effects in value socialization. American Sociological Review, 40, 358–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bengtson, V. L., Biblarz, T. J., & Roberts, R. E. (2002). How families still matter. A longitudinal study of youth in two generations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Bengtson, V. L., Copen, C. E., Putney, N. M., & Silverstein, M. (2009). A longitudinal study of the intergenerational transmission of religion. International Sociology, 24, 325–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bengtson, V. L., & Roberts, R. E. L. (1991). Intergenerational solidarity in aging families: An example of formal theory construction. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53, 856–870.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Billari, F. C. (2001). Sequence analysis in demographic research. Canadian Studies in Population, 28, 439–458.Google Scholar
  14. Blair-Loy, M. (1999). Career patterns of executive women in finance: An optimal matching analysis. American Journal of Sociology, 104, 1346–1397.Google Scholar
  15. Blanchard, P., Bühlmann, F., & Gauthier, J.-A. (2014). Advances in sequence analysis: Theories, methods and applications (Series: Life Course Research and Social Policy (Vol. 2)). New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar
  16. Blau, P. M., & Duncan, O. D. (1967). The American occupational structure. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.Google Scholar
  17. Bonetti, M., Piccarreta, R., & Salford, G. (2013). Parametric and nonparametric analysis of life courses: An application to family formation patterns. Demography, 50, 881–902.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Bongaarts, J., & Feeney, G. (1998). On the quantum and tempo of fertility. Population and Development Review, 24, 271–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Booth, A. L., & Kee, H. J. (2009). Intergenerational transmission of fertility patterns. Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, 71, 183–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Bras, H., Liefbroer, A. C., & Elzinga, C. H. (2010). Standardization of pathways to adulthood? An analysis of Dutch cohorts born between 1850 and 1900. Demography, 47, 1013–1034.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Brückner, H., & Mayer, K. U. (2005). The de-standardization of the life course: What it might mean and if it means anything whether it actually took place. In R. Macmillan (Ed.), The structure of the life course. Standardized? Individualized? Differentiated? (pp. 27–54). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  22. Brzinsky-Fay, C., & Kohler, U. (2010). New developments in sequence analysis. Sociological Methods & Research, 38, 359–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Bumpass, L., & Lu, H.-H. (2000). Trends in cohabitation and implications for children’s family contexts in the United States. Population Studies, 54, 29–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Carlson, M. J., & England, P. (Eds.). (2011a). Social class and changing families in an unequal America. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Carlson, M. J., & England, P. (2011b). Social class and family patterns in the United States. In M. J. Carlson & P. England (Eds.), Social class and changing families in an unequal America (pp. 1–20). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Carlson, M. J., & Furstenberg, F. F., Jr. (2006). The prevalence and correlates of multipartnered fertility among urban U.S. parents. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 718–732.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Carlson, M. J., McLanahan, S., & England, P. (2004). Union formation in fragile families. Demography, 41, 237–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Cherlin, A. J. (1992). Marriage, divorce, remarriage. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Coneus, K., & Spiess, C. K. (2012). The intergenerational transmission of health in early childhood—Evidence from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study. Economics and Human Biology, 10, 89–97.Google Scholar
  30. De Vries, J., Kalmijn, M., & Liefbroer, A. C. (2009). Intergenerational transmission of kinship norms? Evidence from siblings in a multi-actor survey. Social Science Research, 38, 188–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Elder, G. H. (1985). Perspectives on the life course. In G. H. Elder (Ed.), Life course dynamics trajectories and transitions, 1968–1980 (pp. 23–49). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Elder, G. H. (1994). Time, human agency, and social change: Perspectives on the life course. Social Psychology Quarterly, 57, 4–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Elder, G. H., Johnson, M. K., & Crosnoe, R. (2003). The emergence and development of life course theory. In J. T. Mortimer & M. J. Shanahan (Eds.), Handbook of the life course (pp. 3–19). New York, NY: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ellwood, D. T., & Jencks, C. (2004). The uneven spread of single-parent families: What do we know? Where do we look for answers? In K. M. Neckerman (Ed.), Social inequality (pp. 3–78). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  35. Elzinga, C. H. & Liefbroer, A. C. (2007). De-standardization of family-life trajectories of young adults: A cross-national comparison using sequence analysis. European Journal of Population, 23, 225–250.Google Scholar
  36. Fasang, A. E. (2014). New perspectives on family formation: What can we learn from sequence analysis? In P. Blanchard, F. Bühlmann, & J.-A. Gauthier (Eds.), Advances in sequence analysis: Theories, methods and applications (Life Course Research and Social Policy, Vol. 2). New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar
  37. Fasang, A. E., & Liao, T. F. (2013). Visualizing sequences in the social sciences: Relative frequency sequence plots. Sociological Methods & Research. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/0049124113506563
  38. Feng, D., Giarrusso, R., Bengtson, V. L., & Frye, N. (1999). Intergenerational transmission of marital quality and marital instability. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 451–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Freese, J., Powell, B., & Steelman, L. C. (1999). Rebel without a cause or effect: Birth order and social attitudes. American Sociological Review, 64, 207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Furstenberg, F. F., Jr. (2010). On a new schedule: Transitions to adulthood and family change. Future of Children, 20(1), 67–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Fussell, E., & Furstenberg, F. F., Jr. (2005). The transition to adulthood during the twentieth century: Race, nativity, and gender. In R. A. Settersten Jr., F. F. Furstenberg Jr., & R. G. Rumbaut (Eds.), On the frontier of adulthood: Theory, research, and public policy (pp. 29–75). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  42. Gabadinho, A., Ritschard, G., Müller, N. S., & Studer, M. (2011). Analyzing and visualizing state sequences in R with TraMineR. Journal of Statistical Software, 40, 1–37.Google Scholar
  43. Gans, D., & Silverstein, M. (2006). Norms of filial responsibility for aging parents across time and generations. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 961–976.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Gauthier, J.-A., Widmer, E. D., Bucher, P., & Notredame, C. (2010). Multichannel sequence analysis applied to social science data. Sociological Methodology, 40, 1–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Goldscheider, F. (1997). Recent changes in U.S. young adult living arrangements in comparative perspective. Journal of Family Issues, 18, 708–724.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Goldstein, J. R., & Kenney, C. T. (2001). Marriage delayed or marriage forgone? New cohort forecasts of first marriage for U.S. women. American Sociological Review, 66, 506–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Halpin, B. (2010). Optimal matching analysis and life-course data: The importance of duration. Sociological Methods & Research, 38, 365–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Han, S.-K., & Moen, P. (1999). Clocking out: Temporal patterning of retirement. American Journal of Sociology, 105, 191–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Hennig, C., & Liao, T. F. (2010). Comparing latent class and dissimilarity based clustering for mixed type variables with application to social stratification. Journal of the Royal Statistical Science, Series C (Applied Statistics), 62, 309–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Human Fertility Database. (2013). Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (Germany) and Vienna Institute of Demography (Austria). Retrieved from
  51. Johnson, N. E., & Stokes, C. S. (1976). Family size in successive generations: The effects of birth order, intergenerational change in lifestyle, and familial satisfaction. Demography, 13, 175–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Kaufman, L., & Rousseeuw, P. J. (1990). Finding groups in data: An introduction to cluster analysis. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Kolk, M. (2014). Understanding transmission of fertility across multiple generations—Socialization or socioeconomics? Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 35, 89–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Kreider, R. M. (2005). Number, timing, and duration of marriages and divorces: 2001 (Current Population Reports P70-97). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.Google Scholar
  55. Lesnard, L. (2010). Setting cost in optimal matching to uncover contemporaneous socio-temporal patterns. Sociological Methods & Research, 38, 389–419.Google Scholar
  56. Levine, J. H. (2000). But what have you done for us lately? Commentary on Abbott and Tsay. Sociological Methods & Research, 29, 34–40.Google Scholar
  57. Liefbroer, A. C., & Elzinga, C. H. (2012). Intergenerational transmission of behavioural patterns: How similar are parents’ and children’s demographic trajectories? Advances in Life Course Research, 17, 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Long, J. S., & Freese, J. (2006). Regression models for categorial dependent variables using Stata. College Station, TX: Stata Press.Google Scholar
  59. MacIndoe, H., & Abbott, A. (2004). Sequence analysis and optimal matching techniques for social science data. In A. Bryman & M. Hardy (Eds.), Handbook of data analysis (pp. 387–406). London, UK: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  60. Mare, R. D. (1980). Social background and school continuation decisions. Journal of American Statistical Association, 75, 295–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Mare, R. D. (1981). Change and stability in educational stratification. American Sociological Review, 46, 72–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Mare, R. D., & Maralani, V. (2006). The intergenerational effects of changes in women’s educational attainments. American Sociological Review, 71, 542–564.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Martin, S. P. (2006). Trends in marital dissolution by women’s education in the United States. Demographic Research, 15(article 20), 537–560. doi: 10.4054/DemRes.2006.15.20 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. McLanahan, S. (2004). Diverging destinies: How children are faring under the second demographic transition. Demography, 41, 607–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. McLanahan, S., & Bumpass, L. (1988). Intergenerational consequences of family disruption. American Journal of Sociology, 94, 130–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. McLanahan, S., & Percheski, C. (2008). Family structure and the reproduction of inequalities. Annual Review of Sociology, 34, 257–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Merz, E.-M. (2012). Fertility intentions depend on intergenerational relations: A life course perspective. Family Science, 3, 237–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Milligan, G. W., & Cooper, M. C. (1985). An examination of procedures for determining the number of clusters in a data set. Psychometrika, 50, 159–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Modell, J., Furstenberg, F. F., Jr., & Strong, D. (1976). The timing of marriage in the transition to adulthood: Continuity and change, 1860–1975. American Journal of Sociology, 84, S120–S150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Murphy, M. (1999). Is the relationship between fertility of parents and children really weak? Biodemography and Social Biology, 46, 122–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Murphy, M. (2013). Cross-national patterns of intergenerational continuities in childbearing in developed countries. Biodemography and Social Biology, 59, 101–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Murphy, M., & Knudsen, L. B. (2002). The intergenerational transmission of fertility in contemporary Denmark: The effects of number of siblings (full and half), birth order, and whether male or female. Population Studies, 56, 235–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Nock, S. L. (1995). A comparison of marriages and cohabiting relationships. Journal of Family Issues, 16, 53–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Pollock, G. (2007). Holistic trajectories: A study of combined employment, housing and family careers by using multiple-sequence analysis. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (Statistics in Society), 170, 167–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Rohwer, G., & Trappe, H. (1997). Describing life courses. An illustration based on NLSY data. Florence, Italy: European University Institute.Google Scholar
  76. Schönpflug, U. (2001). Intergenerational transmission of values: The role of transmission belts. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 32, 174–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Shanahan, M. J. (2000). Pathways to adulthood in changing societies: Variability and mechanisms in life course perspective. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 667–692.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Silva, J. M. (2012). Constructing adulthood in an age of uncertainty. American Sociological Review, 77, 505–522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Silverstein, M., Bengtson, V. L., & Lawton, L. (1997). Intergenerational solidarity and the structure of adult child–parent relationships in American families. American Journal of Sociology, 103, 429–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Silverstein, M., Gans, D., Lowenstein, A., Giarrusso, R., & Bengtson, V. L. (2010). Older parent-child relationships in six developed nations: Comparisons at the intersection of affection and conflict. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 1006–1021.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Silverstein, M., & Giarrusso, R. (2011). Aging individuals, families, and societies: Micro–meso–macro linkages in the life course. In R. A. Settersten & J. L. Angel (Eds.), Handbook of sociology of aging (pp. 35–49). New York, NY: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Smock, P. J. (2000). Cohabitation in the United States: An appraisal of research themes, findings, and implications. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Steenhof, L., & Liefbroer, A. C. (2008). Intergenerational transmission of age at first birth in the Netherlands for birth cohorts born between 1935 and 1984: Evidence from municipal registers. Population Studies, 62, 69–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Stovel, K. (2001). Local sequential patterns: The structure of lynching in the Deep South, 1882–1930. Social Forces, 79, 843–880.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Stovel, K., & Bolan, M. (2004). Residential trajectories: Using optimal alignment to reveal the structure of residential mobility. Sociological Methods & Research, 32, 559–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Stovel, K., Savage, M., & Bearman, P. (1996). Ascription into achievement: Models of career systems at Lloyds Bank, 1890–1970. American Journal of Sociology, 102, 358–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Studer, M. (2013). WeightedCluster library manual: A practical guide to creating typologies of trajectories in the social sciences with R (LIVES Working Papers, 24). Geneva, Switzerland: University of Geneva Institute for Demographic and Life Course Studies.Google Scholar
  88. Sulloway, F. J. (1997). Born to rebel. Birth order, family dynamics, and creative lives. New York, NY: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  89. Teachman, J. D., Tedrow, L. M., & Crowder, K. D. (2000). The changing demography of America’s families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62, 1234–1246.Google Scholar
  90. van Poppel, F., Monden, C., & Mandemakers, K. (2008). Marriage timing over the generations. Human Nature, 19, 7–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Ventura, S. J., & Bachrach, C. A. (2000). Nonmarital childbearing in the United States, 1940–99 (National Vital Statistics Reports, 48(16)). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.Google Scholar
  92. Western, B., Bloome, D., & Percheski, C. (2008). Inequality among American families with children, 1975 to 2005. American Sociological Review, 73, 903–920.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Wolfinger, N. H. (2000). Beyond the intergenerational transmission of divorce: Do people replicate the patterns of marital instability they grew up with? Journal of Family Issues, 21, 1061–1086.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Wu, L. L. (2000). Some comments on “Sequence analysis and optimal matching methods in sociology: Review and PROSPECT.” Sociological Methods & Research, 29, 41–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Wu, L. L., & Li, J.-C. A. (2005). Historical roots of family of diversity: Marital and childbearing trajectories of American women. In R. A. Settersten Jr., F. F. Furstenberg Jr., & R. G. Rumbaut (Eds.), On the frontier of adulthood: Theory, research, and public policy (pp. 110–149). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Zeileis, A., Hornik, K., & Murrell, P. (2009). Escaping RGBland: Selecting colors for statistical graphics. Computational Statistics & Data Analysis, 53, 3259–3270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Humboldt-University Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für SozialforschungBerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations