Consequences Of Social And Demographic Changes For Exchanges Between Generations
Scholars have become particularly fascinated with exchanges between parents and children, in part because there have been a series of social changes that have altered the context of relations between parents and children and probably heightened the salience of intergenerational exchanges. First, the fact that individuals are living longer has led to several important changes to later-life family relationships. Not surprisingly, the potential for long-lasting family relationships has greatly increased. Certainly the prospects for long-lasting marriages is greater. However, these marriages have not become as commonplace as one would suppose, due to the sharp rise in divorce in the post–World War II era. The other family relationship that has been profoundly affected by declines in mortality has been parentchild relationships. It is not unusual for parents and children today to accrue fifty years or more of interwoven biographies. The majority of individuals today will spend most of their lives in a relationship with parents where they are not minors. Indeed, in an aging society like the United States, parents and children will share key adulthood transitions such as work, parenthood, retirement, and, for some, grandparenthood. These extended years of shared lives form a very different context for exchanges of support than was the case for the first half of the twentieth century. Finally, increases in longevity have changed the experience of grandparenthood—for both generations. Grandparents are much more likely to be alive and in good health for a significant part of their grandchildren's lives. Grandparenthood is also much more likely to a part of the life course of aging adults.
Second, declines in family sizes have altered the generational structure of families. The pool of potential family members "down" the generational ladder has become smaller, while the declines in mortality have worked to maintain the number of family members "up" the generational ladder. It is increasingly common today for middle-aged adults to have more living parents than children. The true force of this social change will not be felt, however, until the baby-boom generation (those born in the decade after World War II) has entered old age. The question is, will there be "enough" children available to care for this generation
Finally, the large increase in divorce has posed challenges for intergenerational exchanges. Divorced adult children often have many needs, and they often turn to their parents for help. As divorce became commonplace among young adults, intergenerational support, in the form of parent's helping children with financial assistance, housing, childcare, and emotional support became crucial. However, the proportion of aging parents who are divorced is also growing, and these parents often do not have the resources to provide needed assistance to their adult children.
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