Gender, parent-child relations and normative obligations

  • Alice S. Rossi Social and Demographic Research Institute, University of Massachusetts, USA

Abstract

This article reports the perspective, design and major findings of a large-scale study of the parent-child relationship across the life course, drawing on data from a probability sample of 1 390 residents in the Boston Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA), together with spin-off samples of parents and adult children of these respondents. Parent-child relations are analyzed with attention given to the gender of parent and child. The highest level of interaction, affection, shared values and help exchange is found between mothers and daughters, and the least between fathers and sons, with opposite-sex parent-child pairs falling between. Special attention is given to a unique method of studying normative obligations to a wide array of kin and non-kin - the factorial, or vignette technique. This method permits a comparison of the degree of obligation felt toward parents and children with numerous relatives, each specified in terms of gender and marital status, facing four types of crisis events and three types of celebratory events. Analysis shows a symmetry largely determined by degree of relatedness to the 74 kin and non-kin types, with the gender of both vignette person and respondent tipping the balance toward higher scores on the obligation scale for women than for men. Findings relating to gender differences are discussed in terms of their social policy implications.

References

Baxter, S. & Lansing, M. 1980. Women and politics: the invisible majority. Ann Arbor. M1: University of Michigan Press.
Becker, G. 1981. A treatise on the family. Cambridge. MA: Harvard University Press.
Bengtson, V.L. & Schrader, S.S. 1982. Parent-child relations. In: Mangen, D.J. & Peterson. W.A. (Eds) Research instruments in social gerontology. Volume 2. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Brody, E.M. 1985. Parent care as a normative family stress. The Gerontologist, 25: 19-29.
Davis. K. 1984. Wives and work: consequences of the sex role revolution. Population and Development Review. September: 397-418.
DeTocqueville, A. 1969. (1835-1840) Democracy in America. Garden City. NY: Doubleday Anchor.
Easterlin, R.A., Macdonald, C. & Macunovich, D.J. 1990. How have American baby-boomers fared? Earnings and economic well-being of young adults. 1964-1987. Journal of Population Economics. 3: 277-90.
Elder, G.H. I974. Children of the Great Depression. Chicago.IL: University of Chicago Press.
Elder, G.H., Caspi, A.,& Downey, G. 1986. Problem behavior and family relationships: life course and intergenerational themes. In: Sørensen, A.R., Weinert, F.E. & Sherrod, L.R. (Eds) Human development and the life course. Hillsdale. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Elder, G.H., Liker, J.K. & Jaworski, B.J. 1984. Hardship in lives: depression influences from the 1930s to old age in postwar America. In: McCluskey, K. & Riese, H. (Eds) Life-span development at psychology: historical and cohort effects. New York: Academic Press. pp. 161-201.
Frank, R.H.I988. Passions within reason: the strategic role of the emotions. New York: W.W. Norton.
Glendon, M.A. 1987. Abortion and divorce in western law. Cambridge. MA: Harvard University Press.
Goleman, D. 1985. Vital lies, simple truths. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Goot, M. & Reid, E. 1975. Women and voting studies: mindless matrons or sexist scietism. Beverly Hills. CA: Sage.
Hagestad, G.O. 1986. The family: women and grandparents as kin keepers. In: Pifer. A. & Bronte, L. (Eds) Our aging society. New York: W.W. Norton. pp. 141-60.
Hannan. M. 1982. Families. markets and social structures: an essay on Becker's treatise on the family. Journal of Economic Literature. 20: 65-72.
Homans, G. C. 1950. The human group. New York: Harcoun. Brace.
Lancaster, J.B. 1994. Human sexuality, life histories, and evolutionary ecology. In: Rossi, A.S. (Ed.) Sexuality across the life course. Chicago. IL: University of Chicago Press. pp. 39-62.
McGoldrick, M. l989. Women through the family life cycle. In: McGoldrick,M., Anderson, C.M. & Walsh, F. (Eds) Women in families: a framework for family therapy. New York: W.W. Norton, pp. 20 1-36.
Money, J. & Ehrhardt, A. 1973. Man & woman, boy & girl. Baltimore. MD: The John Hopkins University Press.
Murstein, B., Cerreto, M. & MacDonald, M. 1977. A theory and investigation of the effect of exchange-orientation on marriage and friendship. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 39: 543-48.
Ozawa, M. 1989. Women's life cycle and economic insecurity. New York: Praeger.
Riley, M.W. 1983. The family in an aging society: a matrix of latent relationships. Journal of Family Issues. 4: 439-54.
Rossi, A.S. 1994. Eros and caritas: a biopsychological approach to human sexuality and reproduction. In: Rossi. A.S. (Ed.) Sexuality across the life course. Chicago. IL: University of Chicago Press. pp. 3-36.
Rossi, A.S. & Rossi, P.H. 1990. Of human bonding: parent-child relations across the life course. Hawthorne. NY: Aldine de Gruyter.
Riley, M.W. 1983. The family in an aging society: a matrix of latent relationships. Journal of family issues. 4: 439-54.
Ryder, N. 1990. What is going to happen to American fertility? Population and Development Review. 16: 433-54.
Sherrod, L.R. & Brim, O.G. 1984. Epilogue: retrospective and prospective views of life-course research. In: Sørensen, A.R., Weinert, F.E. & Sherrod. L. R. (Eds) Human development and the life course. Hillsdale . NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. pp. 557-80.
Spitze, G. & Logan, J. 1990. More evidence on women (and men) in the middle. Research on Aging. 12: 182-98.
Stein, E. 1992. Forms of desire: sexual orientation and the social constructionist controversy. New York: Routledge. Chapman & Hall.
Published
1994-10-01