intergenerational relationships and exchanges 2381

over the life course. The core resources given
altruistically or exchanged reciprocally that
are most frequently studied include time
and involvement, money, assets and goods,
and love, affection, and intimacy, in part
because these have proven essential to individual
well being.
Trends from the 1960s to the present
most notably, increases in divorce, maternal
employment, nonmarital childbearing, and
cohabitation have stirred volumes of new
research on consequences for parentchild rela
tionships, child development and well being,
and intergenerational exchange. New research
shows that the quality of early parentchild
relationships is consequential years later, when
aging parents may need help from adult chil
dren, or vice versa. Some studies show that
fathers who divorce while their children are
young, for example, get less from their children
in old age. The role of grandparents in contri
buting to the well being of grandchildren,
particularly in the context of divorce and other
stressors, is becoming an important focus of
While intergenerational relationships and
exchange are studied in a variety of social
science disciplines, the sociological approach
has at least three key features. First, it pays
attention to how patterns of intergenerational
relationships and exchange are affected by the
social contexts (neighborhoods, employment
sites, economic conditions, and so on) in which
families, and family members, are embedded.
For example, a number of studies have shown
that bad jobs make good parenting more difficult
to achieve. The experiences and lessons learned
in extra family environments get brought into
families, influencing family relationships and
Second, the life course perspective is often
used as a framework for studying intergenera
tional relationships. It draws attention to the
unique alignment of age or life stage (e.g., the
nature of exchanges between parents and chil
dren will vary depending on whether children
are in infancy, childhood, adolescence, or adult
hood) and history (e.g., relationships will be
colored both by the period under which family
members came of age and the current climate),
with an eye toward how individual development
and primary relationships at the micro level
are affected by local, regional, national, and
even global events. The life course approach is
inherently longitudinal, viewing intergenera
tional relationships as beginning at birth and
moving through old age, and sequential, where
earlier intergenerational events and transitions
along the life course will have essential implica
tions for later ones.
Third, rooted in the expansion of the division
of labor and population heterogeneity that accom
panied modernization, sociology has become
markedly attentive to the consequences of social
inequalities hierarchies based on the inter
secting dimensions of education, occupation,
economic status, age, race, ethnicity, nativity
and immigration status, gender, sexual orien
tation, and family background. This race,
class, gender approach has become an impor
tant component of studies of intergeneratio
nal relationships. Do class, race, and ethnicity,
for example, shape the way parents raise chil
dren and adult children care for aging parents?
Some evidence suggests that, controlling for
resources, African American and Latino adults
in the US are more likely to provide assistance
to their parents, and that race, class, and gender
shape the way parents raise their children.
Since its origin was in the disruptions of
major social changes, this subfield traditionally
has been concerned with family decline the
possibility that intergenerational relationships
have weakened and exchanges have diminished.
To date, the fear of intergenerational decline has
been stronger than the empirical evidence. Even
at the height of the apparent generation gap in
the US the 1960s relatively high levels of
shared values and bonds between family mem
bers were observed, and the vast majority of
caregiving today continues to be provided by
family members. Recent work has also shown
that employment has not led to significant
decline in the amount of time mothers spend
with children. To be sure, at the beginning of
the twenty first century, intergenerational rela
tionships and exchanges are more diverse and
complicated than ever before, but remain cru
cially important to the well being of individuals
and society.

SEE ALSO: Aging, Sociology of; Family,
Sociology of; Intergenerational Conflict; Life
Course; Life Course and Family; Socialization