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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

Notes

  1. 1.

    With less than 5 % in 2001, the share of people marrying three or more times is still very low. The remarriage rates for the cohorts in our study are even lower than that. We therefore observe the great majority of all marriages and remarriages.

  2. 2.

    Using data from the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) that are censored at some point between ages 18 and 30, Liefbroer and Elzinga (2012) showed that results based on sequence analysis with optimal matching are very sensitive to censoring. We therefore cannot use the NSFH, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79), or the Panel Study of Income Dynamics Child Development Supplement (PSID-CDS) because the child generation is censored in the late 20s and early 30s in all these data sets.

  3. 3.

    For more details on the data, see Bengtson et al. (2002).

  4. 4.

    Children from divorced families are somewhat overrepresented in the group for which we have information for only one parent: 76.8 % of all parental divorces are observed in families with data on one parent only.

  5. 5.

    The mean duration spent in DC is 0.6 years in the parent generation and 2.0 years in the child generation. The respective numbers for SC are 0.2 years for parents and 0.3 years for children.

  6. 6.

    Allowing all parity and relationship status combinations that occur for at least 1 % of person-years in the sample yielded 12 family formation states that additionally separate divorce with higher-order parities and marriage with five children. Using these 12 family formation states for all analyses yielded substantially the same results but less-distinct family formation clusters indicated by worse cluster cutoff criteria. We therefore retain the specification of nine family formation states.

  7. 7.

    For an introduction to sequence analysis, see MacIndoe and Abbott (2004).

  8. 8.

    In addition the final cost specification, our results were robust to the following five other cost specifications: (1) optimal matching with constant substitution costs of 2 and indel costs of 1, (2) dynamic Hamming distance (DHD) (Lesnard 2010), (3) substitution costs based on overall (non-time-dependent) transition rates and indel costs of 1, (4) only the hierarchical cost specification without weighting it by generation specific substitution costs, and (5) hierarchical costs weighted by transition rates, where both were normalized to vary between 0 and 1 before they were multiplied.

  9. 9.

    The five questionnaire items comprise the following questions. (1) Taking everything into consideration, how close do you feel is the relationship between you and your (parent, study child, etc.) at this point in your life? (2) How is communication between you and your mother/father—exchanging ideas or talking about things that really concern you at this point in your life? (3) Overall, how well do you and your mother/father get along at this point in time? (4) How well do you feel your mother/father understands you? (5) How well do you feel that you understand your mother/father?

  10. 10.

    We used the first (= 3.6) and the third quartile (= 5.0) on the affectional solidarity scale as thresholds for low and high affectual solidarity for calculating the predicted probabilities.

References

  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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Abbott, A. (1995). Sequence analysis: New methods for old ideas. Annual Review of Sociology, 21, 93–113.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Abbott, A. (2000). Reply to Levine and Wu. Sociological Methods & Research, 29, 65–76.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Amato, P. R. (1996). Explaining the intergenerational transmission of divorce. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 58, 628–640.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Bengtson, V. L. (1975). Generation and family effects in value socialization. American Sociological Review, 40, 358–371.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

  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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Bongaarts, J., & Feeney, G. (1998). On the quantum and tempo of fertility. Population and Development Review, 24, 271–291.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Booth, A. L., & Kee, H. J. (2009). Intergenerational transmission of fertility patterns. Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, 71, 183–208.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

  22. Brzinsky-Fay, C., & Kohler, U. (2010). New developments in sequence analysis. Sociological Methods & Research, 38, 359–364.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Carlson, M. J., McLanahan, S., & England, P. (2004). Union formation in fragile families. Demography, 41, 237–261.

    Article  Google 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.

  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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Google 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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Furstenberg, F. F., Jr. (2010). On a new schedule: Transitions to adulthood and family change. Future of Children, 20(1), 67–87.

    Article  Google 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.

  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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Goldscheider, F. (1997). Recent changes in U.S. young adult living arrangements in comparative perspective. Journal of Family Issues, 18, 708–724.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Halpin, B. (2010). Optimal matching analysis and life-course data: The importance of duration. Sociological Methods & Research, 38, 365–388.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Han, S.-K., & Moen, P. (1999). Clocking out: Temporal patterning of retirement. American Journal of Sociology, 105, 191–236.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Human Fertility Database. (2013). Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (Germany) and Vienna Institute of Demography (Austria). Retrieved from www.humanfertility.org

  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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Kaufman, L., & Rousseeuw, P. J. (1990). Finding groups in data: An introduction to cluster analysis. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Kolk, M. (2014). Understanding transmission of fertility across multiple generations—Socialization or socioeconomics? Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 35, 89–103.

    Article  Google 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.

  55. Lesnard, L. (2010). Setting cost in optimal matching to uncover contemporaneous socio-temporal patterns. Sociological Methods & Research, 38, 389–419.

  56. Levine, J. H. (2000). But what have you done for us lately? Commentary on Abbott and Tsay. Sociological Methods & Research, 29, 34–40.

  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.

    Article  Google 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.

  60. Mare, R. D. (1980). Social background and school continuation decisions. Journal of American Statistical Association, 75, 295–305.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Mare, R. D. (1981). Change and stability in educational stratification. American Sociological Review, 46, 72–87.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Mare, R. D., & Maralani, V. (2006). The intergenerational effects of changes in women’s educational attainments. American Sociological Review, 71, 542–564.

    Article  Google 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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. McLanahan, S. (2004). Diverging destinies: How children are faring under the second demographic transition. Demography, 41, 607–627.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. McLanahan, S., & Bumpass, L. (1988). Intergenerational consequences of family disruption. American Journal of Sociology, 94, 130–152.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. McLanahan, S., & Percheski, C. (2008). Family structure and the reproduction of inequalities. Annual Review of Sociology, 34, 257–276.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Merz, E.-M. (2012). Fertility intentions depend on intergenerational relations: A life course perspective. Family Science, 3, 237–245.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Murphy, M. (1999). Is the relationship between fertility of parents and children really weak? Biodemography and Social Biology, 46, 122–145.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Murphy, M. (2013). Cross-national patterns of intergenerational continuities in childbearing in developed countries. Biodemography and Social Biology, 59, 101–126.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Nock, S. L. (1995). A comparison of marriages and cohabiting relationships. Journal of Family Issues, 16, 53–76.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  78. Silva, J. M. (2012). Constructing adulthood in an age of uncertainty. American Sociological Review, 77, 505–522.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  84. Stovel, K. (2001). Local sequential patterns: The structure of lynching in the Deep South, 1882–1930. Social Forces, 79, 843–880.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

  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.

  90. van Poppel, F., Monden, C., & Mandemakers, K. (2008). Marriage timing over the generations. Human Nature, 19, 7–22.

    Article  Google 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.

  92. Western, B., Bloome, D., & Percheski, C. (2008). Inequality among American families with children, 1975 to 2005. American Sociological Review, 73, 903–920.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Google Scholar 

  96. Zeileis, A., Hornik, K., & Murrell, P. (2009). Escaping RGBland: Selecting colors for statistical graphics. Computational Statistics & Data Analysis, 53, 3259–3270.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

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.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anette Eva Fasang.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

ESM 1

(DOCX 35.8 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Fasang, A.E., Raab, M. Beyond Transmission: Intergenerational Patterns of Family Formation Among Middle-Class American Families. Demography 51, 1703–1728 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-014-0322-9

Download citation

Keywords

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