Multigenerational Families Research Paper Starter

Multigenerational Families

Although the nuclear family, comprised of two married parents and their biological or adopted children, is widely understood as the primary family form in modern societies, it is changing, if not in decline. In contrast, multigenerational families are emerging as a widespread family form. For instance, many adults are living with their parents longer or returning to their family of origin after college or following divorce. In addition, older generations are living with their children or other family members, either to care for grandchildren, or to be cared for by their children; and single parents may find living with another generation offers extra support for childcare. There are both benefits and drawbacks to the multigenerational family. For instance, while multigenerational families may share material resources, needs for emotional support, health care and finances vary across generations. Yet there are clear advantages to living in a multigenerational family in a complex and anxious world and increasingly such arrangements may provide the essential family functions in 21st century society.

Keywords Extended Family; Family Dynamics; Industrialization; Intergenerational; Kinship; Multigenerational Family; Nuclear Family

Family

Overview

Although the nuclear family, comprised of two married parents and their biological or adopted children, is widely understood as the primary family form in modern societies, it is changing, if not in decline. In particular, multigenerational families are emerging as a widespread family form. For instance, many adults are living with their parents longer or returning to their family of origin after college or following divorce. In addition, older generations are living with their children or other family members, either to care for grandchildren, or to be cared for by their children; and single parents may find living with another generation offers extra support for childcare. There are both benefits and drawbacks to the multigenerational family. For instance, while multigenerational families may share material resources, needs for emotional support, health care and finances vary across generations. Yet there are clear advantages to living in a multigenerational family in a complex and anxious world and increasingly such arrangements may provide the essential family functions in 21st century society.

Family Forms

The family is a form of social organization that changes over time and place. For instance, industrialization transformed the traditional, extended family, associated with agrarian societies (not only multigenerational, but typically including an assortment of non-kin living in one household) into the modern, isolated, nuclear family. Much family research has taken a functionalist perspective through which researchers have argued that the functions of the nuclear family include the socialization of children and the provision of emotional support in a 'heartless world' (Lasch, 1995). Social commentators who support this view have argued in recent years that the nuclear family is in decline: that is, they see changes in family structure (for instance, the rise in divorce rates from the 1960s, the increase in single parent families and the absence of fathers from many families) as signs of moral decay. However, other researchers argue that changes in family structure and form need not be interpreted as evidence of social decline. For instance, Klever (2004) refers to the family as a dynamic organism whose shape can change at any time. An illness, death, or pregnancy in the family can suddenly shift responsibilities and change the configuration of a household. A young woman or man who is suddenly widowed or becomes a single parent may need the support of their parents in order to get through a difficult time.

It is certainly the case that family forms are diversifying. People increasingly live in families that are headed by mothers (for instance in African American households in the US), in blended families (where children from different families of origin live with step-parents), and in families with gay or lesbian parents. Another emerging family form is that of the multigenerational family.

Factors that Account for Multigenerational Families

According to 2010 Census data there were 5.1 multigenerational households (consisting of three or more generations of parents and their children) in the United States, accounting for 4.4 percent of all households. The three most common types of multigenerational households (accounting for 98.1 percent) are “(1) householder- child-grandchild, (2) parent/parent-in-law of householder-householder-child, and (3) parent/parent-in-law of householder- householder-child-grandchild” (Lofquist, Lugaila, O’Connell, & Feliz, 2012, Apr).

There are numerous factors that have contributed to the emergence of multigenerational families. First, increasing longevity and decreasing fertility have created a demographic shift in which there is now a much greater proportion of people over the age of 65 than even 50 years ago. People are not only living longer but also living more vital lives. Health care has a stronger focus on wellness and the development of geriatric medicine has created specialists who help people age with grace and fewer medical problems. Consequently, Spira and Wall (2006) suggest that families with three and four generations will become more of a norm in the future.

Lowenstein (2007) has studied population increase in the number of people over the age of 65. She refers to this phenomenon as the "globalization of ageing" and notes:

In light of these changing demographic structures and changing family forms, intergenerational bonds among adult family members may be even more important today than previously because individuals live longer and thus can share more years and experiences with other generations (Lowenstein, 2007, p. 5).

Therefore, second, the shared years and experiences highlighted by Lowenstein above may become intensified, since the age distribution has shifted toward "more family generations alive but with fewer members in each generation" (Bengston, 2001, p. 3).

Third, economic conditions may make it difficult for children to establish their own families after college, or maintain them following divorce, especially in areas of high unemployment. Many young people cannot afford to take on post-secondary education costs and live away from home. The specter of large loans is frightening and the best option seems to be to remain at home for as long as possible. Moreover, housing shortages or high costs may force families to double up their living arrangements. Similarly, in areas with relatively high rates of out-of-wedlock childbearing, unwed mothers may live with their children in their parents' home (Simmons and O'Neill, 2000). According to Ruiz and Zhu:

The unprecedented proliferation of grandmothers who are caring for large numbers of grandchildren has received the nation's attention. In spite of the growing interest among researchers, policy makers, and practitioners, currently there is little empirical research on the issues and problems affecting this vulnerable population of caregivers (p. 416).

Fourth, multigenerational families are more likely to reside in areas of recent immigration, where new immigrants may live with their relatives.

There are also cultural factors related to multigenerational families. In some cultures, such as Mexican culture, care for the older generation is considered important. This is also true for Cuban culture: "In Cuban families, bonds of loyalty and unity the value of familismo, a cultural attitude and value, places the interest of the family over the interest of the individual as the basis of family structure" (Spira & Wall, 2006, p. 394).

Challenges to the Nuclear...

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