Understanding Family Complexity in the
Study of Intergenerational Relationships:
Evidence from the Longitudinal Study of Generations
Merril Silverstein, Ph.D.
Professor of Gerontology and
Sociology
Davis School of Gerontology
Department of Sociology
University of Southern California
Families Through Historical Time
• Increased longevity means greater co-survival
between generations and prolonged relationships.
• Possible kinship issues
o Fertility decline
o Higher prevalence of divorce, remarriage, step-families
o Geographic distance increasing
o Weaker sense of filial obligation
• How to study social change in real time instead of
using retrospective reports or using “proxy” evidence?
• How to better approach families systemically?
Studies of Families and Social
Change
• Using a single individual as informant about
family process at one historical moment limits
research questions that can be addressed
• Use of retrospective reports has biases
• Cross-sectional comparisons regarding social
change of interest (e.g., divorced vs. married)
ignores socio-historical context
• Cohort studies in repeated cross-sections ignore
intra-familial dependence and cannot address
issues that require parent-child data
Generational-Sequential Design
• Members of different generations in the
same families measured at the same
age but at different historical periods to
test for effects of social conditions at a
common life-stage.
• Useful for studying age-dependent
processes where social conditions are
also changing.
5
Comparison of Intergenerational
Relations Across Historical Contexts
• Historical/generational change in the quality of
intergenerational relationships
– Requires early reports from parents and later reports from
children
• Has the quality of older parent-child relations
weakened over historical time?
• If so, is this related to:
– Increasing geographic distance
– Rising divorce rates
– Weakening norms of familism
The USC Longitudinal Study
of Generations (LSOG)
• A multigenerational multi-time-point study, started in 1971 with
repeated panels  2005.
• Consists of about 3,000 individuals from 374 three-generation
families recruited within Southern California region.
• Full families are surveyed: grandparents, parents, and
grandchildren (16+), including siblings, spouses, former
spouses.
• Fourth generation added in 1991 (Fifth generation in 2010).
Design of LSOG
Multi-generational Family
Clusters
Age and Period Design of LSOG
100
90
80
70
Age
60
G1
50
G2
G3
40
G4
30
20
10
0
1971
1985
1988
1991
1994
1997
Year of Meassurement
2000
2005
Age and Period Design of LSOG
100
90
80
70
Age
60
G1
50
G2
G3
40
G4
30
20
10
0
1971
1985
1988
1991
1994
1997
Year of Meassurement
2000
2005
Application of Generational Sequential
Design
• Do G3 children maintain less close relationship to
their parents than G2 parents maintained with their
parents?
• Is so, does a G3-G2 difference persist after
controlling for individual-level variables
representing the “social change” of interest.
• Methodological individualism: characteristics of
serial generations proxy the social change of
interest by virtue of their unique historical/cohort
experiences.
Sample & Design
• Data for this analysis from LSOG: 554 G2s in 1971
and their G3 children surveyed between 1991  2005.
– G2s averaged 44 years of age in 1971.
– G3s reached the age of each parent somewhere between
1991-2005. For each G3 we use the survey that matches the
closest to their parent’s 1971 age.
• Use multilevel modeling to estimate change in
emotional closeness to parents over time in G2s and
G3s, comparing (1) slopes and (2) levels at the
historical time when they match in age.
Cross-Generational
Comparisons in the LSOG
T1
T2
T3
T4
T5
T6
T7
T8
Year
1971
1985
1988
1991
1994
1997
2000
2005
G2
43
57
60
63
66
59
72
77
G3
20
34
37
40
43
46
49
54
16
19
22
25
30
G4
Cross-Generational
Comparisons in the LSOG
T1
T2
T3
T4
T5
T6
T7
T8
Year
1971
1985
1988
1991
1994
1997
2000
2005
G2
43
57
60
63
66
59
72
77
G3
20
34
37
40
43
46
49
54
16
19
22
25
30
G4
Predicted for Emotional Closeness to Mothers in Two
Linked Generations Centered on Age Match
Emotional Closeness to Mothers
25
24
23
Cohort Gap
22
21
G2
Mothers
20
19
G3
Children
18
17
16
15
-33
-19
-16
-13
-10
Age
-7
-4
0
14
17
20
23
Centered by Matched G2-G3
26
29
33
Predicted Emotional Closeness to Fathers in Two
Linked Generations Centered on Age Match
Emotional Closeness to Fathers
25
24
23
22
Cohort Gap
21
G2
Parents
20
19
G3
Children
18
17
16
15
-33
-19
-16
-13
-10
-7
-4
0
14
17
20
23
Age Centered by Matched G2-G3
26
29
33
Predicted Emotional Closeness to Mothers in
Two Linked Generations Centered on Age by
Health of G1 Mothers
Emotional Closeness to Mothers
24
G2 Mothers: G1
Mothers NO IADL
22
20
G2 Mothers: G1
Mothers MOD IADL
18
16
G2 Mothers: G1
Mothers HIGH IADL
14
12
G3 Children
10
-33 -19 -16 -13 -10
-7
-4
0
14
17
20
23
Age Centered by Matched G3-G2
26
29
33
Multi-level Regression Results
Predicting the G3-G2 Cohort Gap
Average G3 - G2 Difference in Closeness to Parents
When Generations are Age-Matched (40-50)
G3-G2 Affection
0
-0.5
-1
*
-1.5
*
**
*
**
*
With Mothers
With Fathers
-2
Demographic Distance Added Divorce Added
Norms of
Controls
Familism Added
Cross Generational-Sequential
• Transmission of values, attitudes, beliefs,
behavioral tendencies across age-matched
generations within the same families.
• Multi-actor data?
• Causal direction?
• Research questions focusing on interdependencies
and influence across family actors over time call for
20
unique approaches.
• Religion is a family affair.
• Children are socialized to
religious traditions by
parents and grandparents
• Do grandparents
influence the values,
attitudes, and beliefs of
their grandchildren
beyond the influence of
parents, synergistically
with parents, and as
mediated by parents?
LSOG Data: Lagged Triads
• Grandparents in 1971 (mean age =44)
– G2 = 257
• Parents in 1988 (mean age = 40)
– G3 = 341
• Grandchildren in 2005 (mean age = 31)
– G4 = 565
Measures of Religiosity
• Practice
– Attendance at religious services: “never” to “everyday”
• Salience
– Importance of “a religious life” ranked among 13 social values
• Identity
– How religious are you?: “not at all” to “very religious”
• Beliefs
– Strength of conservative religious beliefs: agreement with
statements
•
•
•
•
God exists in the form as described in the Bible
All people today are descendents of Adam and Eve
All children should receive religious training
Religion should play an important role in daily life
• Additive scale (standardized factor score) computed for
each generation
Nesting of Grandchildren in Two
Three-Generational Families: Basis
for Multi-level Modeling
Parent #1
Parent #1
Parent #2
Parent #2
Parent #3
Grandparent: Red
Grandparent: Green
Empirical Results from Multilevel Models
Transmission of Religiosity
.10*
.32***
Grandparent
Religiosity
1971
.38***
Parent
Religiosity
1988
Grandchild
Religiosity
2004
Effect on GC Religiosity
0.5
Standardized Effects of Parents' and Grandparents'
Religiosity on Grandchildren's Religiosity
0.4
.38***
0.3
0.2
.10*
.12*
0.1
0
Parents' Direct Effect
Grandparents' Direct Effect
Grandparents' Indirect Effect
• Parents’ direct influence is almost four times that of
grandparents, but grandparents do directly influence their
grandchildren net of parents.
• Grandparents also indirectly influence their grandchildren
through parents. Total influence of grandparents (.22) is 58%
that of parents (.38).
Source: Copen & Silverstein, 2007, Journal of Comparative Family Studies.
Grandchildren's Religiosity by Levels of
Grandparent's and Parent's Religiosity
GC Religiosity
0.6
0.4
Lower Par
Religiosity
0.2
0
Higher Par
Religiosity
-0.2
-0.4
-0.6
Lower GP Religiosity
Higher GP Religiosity
• Grandchildren are most religious when both their
parents and grandparents are more religious.
• Suggests that several generations together
reinforce a family culture of religiosity.
Grandchildren's Religiosity by Grantparent's Religiosity and
Parental Marital History
GC Religiosity
0.3
Intact
Marriage
0.2
0.1
0
Ever
Divorced
-0.1
-0.2
-0.3
Lower GP Religiosity
Higher GP Religiosity
• Grandparents are better able to transmit their
religiosity to grandchildren within intact families.
• Parental divorce is associated with less religiosity
in their children; grandparents do not compensate.
Measures of Gender Role Attitude
• Husbands ought to have the main say in family
matters [Disagree]
• Women’s liberation ideas make a lot of sense to me
[Agree]
• It goes against nature to put women in positions of
authority over men [Disagree]
• Women who want to remove the word “obey” from
the marriage service don’t understand what it
means to be a good wife. [Disagree]
• Additive scale (standardized factor score)
computed for each generation
Empirical Results from Multilevel Models
Transmission of Gender Role Attitudes
.10*
.11
Mother
Contact with
Grandmother
1988
Grandmother
Gender Role
Attitudes
1971
.09**
.16**
Mother Role
Attitudes
1988
Grandchild
Gender Role
Attitudes
2005
Longitudinal Generational-Sequential
Design in the LSOG Using 14 Years
Historical Period
1971 ---------->1985
Life Stage Transition Age Span (Gen)
Early Adulthood
19 -------> 33 (G3)
Middle Adulthood
44 -------> 58 (G2)
Late Adulthood
64 -------> 77 (G1)
Historical Period
1991 ---------->2005
Age Span (Gen)
19 -------> 31 (G4)
42 -------> 56 (G3)
63 -------> 76 (G2)
31
Summary
• Generational-sequential designs provide
useful tools for understanding how societal
change is manifest in micro-family
environments and across multiple family
members.
• Generational differences can be investigated
with GSD in terms of change across cohorts
– Intergenerational ties weakening over historical
time.
• And in terms of cross-cohort continuity
– Intergenerational transmission occurring (and
possibly changing) over historical time.
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Intergenerational Support, Cohesion, and Influence in Later Life