Parent-Child Relationship - Parent-adult Child Relations In Historical Context
Parent-adult child relations in historical context
Changes in American society during the twentieth century led parent-adult child relations to be of increasing interest to scholars, policymakers, and the lay public. Gains in average life expectancy have provided parents and children the opportunity for even more enduring intergenerational relationships than in previous eras. For example, men born in 1920 were expected, on average, to live to be only 54; by 1950, their life expectancy had risen to 66, and by 1996, to 73. Women's life expectancy increased even more across the same period, from 55 for women born in 1920, to 71 in 1950, and 79 in 1996. Such increases in life expectancy provide greater opportunities for meaningful family exchanges across the generations.
However, the opportunity for greater family involvement may not be sufficient to produce warm and supportive intergenerational relations. In fact, both the popular and scholarly literatures have often framed parent–adult child relations as potentially problematic. Such concerns can be attributed to certain societal trends that may create obstacles to harmonious and supportive relations between the generations. First, increased life expectancy leads to a greater likelihood that families will spend longer periods of time caring for disabled elderly relatives. Coupled with declining fertility, this development suggests that larger numbers of elderly people will be cared for by fewer offspring. Adult children, in turn, will bear the costs of caring for aged parents, with fewer siblings to assist them.
In addition, the nature of parent-child relations in later life became substantially more voluntary toward the end of the twentieth century. That is, elderly parents' relationships with grown children are characterized by choice, rather than by obligation. In the past, control of family resources was a major method of ensuring contact with, and care by, children. In contemporary society, the young are dependent on the labor market for their livelihood, rather than on elderly parents. Further, norms of filial responsibility were more clearly articulated in the past. At present, the amount and nature of parent-child contact and the degree of mutual aid between the generations tend to be individually negotiated, with only limited guidance from society.
What is remarkable, in the face of such obstacles to high relationship quality, is that parent– adult child ties tend, on average, to be warm and supportive despite the difficulties that both generations face.