Intergenerational Exchanges and Support in Family Contexts

Open Access
Kim, Kyungmin
Graduate Program:
Human Development and Family Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 21, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Steven Howard Zarit, Dissertation Advisor
  • Steven Howard Zarit, Committee Chair
  • Michael J Rovine, Committee Member
  • David Eggebeen, Committee Member
  • Valarie Elizabeth King, Committee Member
  • J Douglas Coatsworth, Committee Member
  • intergenerational relationships
  • support exchanges
  • family contexts
  • discrepancy
Parents and their adult children typically remain very involved with one another over the life course. One of important domains that characterize the parent-adult offspring relationships is the support and assistance that is exchanged between them. This dissertation comprises three studies that provide complementary perspectives on intergenerational support exchanges within a family system. The first two studies examine the role of discrepancies of perspective on exchanges among family members, using data from The Family Exchanges Study. The third study explores patterns of intergenerational support that married adults exchange with parents and parents-in-law in a Korean sample, adding a cultural perspective. Using 929 parent-adult child dyads from three-generation families, Study 1 examined how discrepancies in reports of support exchanged within dyads of parents and offspring vary both within and between families, and what characteristics explain within- and between-family differences in dyadic discrepancies. The results showed substantial between-family differences as well as within-family differences in dyadic discrepancies. Although discrepancies in support exchanges were mainly associated with dyad-specific characteristics within families, they also appear to be influenced by the family’s overall emotional environment. Families with better relationships among family members tended to be more congruent in their perspectives about support given to offspring. Study 2 extends the investigation of discrepancies by including an important but overlooked issue - inheritance. Utilizing data from 327 aging parents and their middle-aged children, this study examined factors associated with expectations of inheritance and correspondence in expectations over inheritance within dyads. The findings showed that children were less likely to expect inheritances than parents expected to give. Although bequest decisions are circumscribed by parent’s financial resources, they appear to be a continuation of established patterns of exchanges. This study also found that parents and children form their intention or expectation about inheritance based on different factors (e.g., child’s income, support given to parent, and parent’s gender), leaving open the possibility of misunderstandings between the generations. Study 3 investigated patterns of support exchanges between Korean adult children (N = 937) and their parents and parents-in-law, gender differences in these patterns, and implications of exchange patterns for children’s marital quality. Most studies of intergenerational exchanges have focused only on parents, but little attention has been given to help that may be directed toward in-laws. Korea is an interesting setting for examining support to both sets of parents because while it has traditionally been a patrilineal culture, rapid social changes have affected family norms and structure. Using latent class analysis, this study identified three balanced patterns and two imbalanced patterns of exchanges between parents and parents-in-law. These patterns reflected both the patrilineal tradition and contemporary balanced patterns. Significant associations of exchange patterns with adult children’s marital quality indicate the importance for couples of balanced exchanges with parents that are not driven by obligatory norms. In sum, this research extends our knowledge of how intergenerational exchanges occur in various family contexts. Together, these studies demonstrated the importance of considering family perspectives to understand the process of intergenerational exchanges and the implication for individual and family well-being.