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.
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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.
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.
For more details on the data, see Bengtson et al. (2002).
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.
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.
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.
For an introduction to sequence analysis, see MacIndoe and Abbott (2004).
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.
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?
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.
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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.
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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
- Family formation
- Intergenerational transmission
- Sequence analysis
- Demographic trajectories
- Parent-child dyads