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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Race, Ethnic, and Nativity Differences in Intergenerational Relationships

  • Author(s): Yahirun, Jenjira
  • Advisor(s): Seltzer, Judith A.
  • et al.

International migration over the past half century has increased the racial and ethnic diversity of countries in North America and Western Europe. My dissertation highlights two ways in which intergenerational relationships can be studied in light of increasing population heterogeneity. One approach is to assess whether immigrants and their descendants adopt "mainstream" attitudes, norms and behaviors related to parent-child relationships over time. A second approach is to explore ways in which increasing population diversity changes the influence that parents and offspring have over one another and the ways in which they interact.

In my first chapter, I adopt the first approach and ask how social contexts influence immigrants' attitudes towards family obligation and in particular, the difference between attitudes of immigrants and the native born towards family support. This chapter examines nativity differences in intergenerational obligation across two social contexts: Germany and the Netherlands. Intergenerational obligation is defined as the extent to which parents and children feel a sense of duty to assist one another and to take into account the needs and wishes of each other when making decisions. The paper focuses on first- and second-generation Turkish immigrants only and compares them to their native counterparts in Germany and the Netherlands. By comparing immigrants and their descendents from the same sending country to the "native" population of two countries, a main obstacle that commonly hinders cross-national migration research - comparing immigrants from different countries across contexts - is addressed.

I use data from the Generations and Gender Survey and apply structural equation models in the main analysis. After demonstrating consistency in the measurement and meaning of intergenerational obligation across groups, I find that immigrants have stronger family ties than natives in both countries. However, the nativity gap is much smaller in Germany compared to the Netherlands. In addition, the overall level of family obligation is lower among Turkish immigrants in the Netherlands compared to their counterparts Germany. I explain these differences from a policy perspective: More generous social welfare supports for families as well as multicultural policies that help immigrants retain their cultural identity in the Netherlands, compared to Germany, shed light on these findings. Importantly, the results suggest that attitudes towards family obligation are not fixed upon arrival; rather, they vary depending on the contexts into which immigrants settle. The findings speak to previous research that often describe differences between immigrants and natives as if immigrants' characteristics are fixed, ignoring the role that the receiving country context plays in altering immigrants' behaviors and attitudes.

My second chapter asks how increasing population diversity affects the type of partner individuals choose to marry and whether parent-child relationships influence these decisions. I apply a linked lives approach by exploring the connection between parent-child ties and when and whom offspring marry. Parental resources and parent-child relationships are well-known factors influencing children's family formation behaviors. Parents shape when offspring marry, whether they cohabit before marriage, when they have children and the number of children they have. However, far less is known about how parent-child relationships affect who children marry. Growing population diversity and changing patterns of race/ethnic segregation provide individuals with more opportunities to meet partners of a different race/ethnic background than their own. Although recent research asserts that parental influence on children's marital behaviors is waning, parents may still influence who children choose to marry.

In this chapter, I use data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to investigate how parent-child relationships during adolescence affect the timing and type of marriage young adults choose. I ask whether strong parent-child relationships are more likely to lead to marriage, rather than remaining single and whether they are positively associated with entry into a same-race, rather than cross-race exogamous unions. Finally, I ask whether the association between parent-child ties and offspring's union formation vary across race/ethnic and nativity groups. The results from this chapter suggest that individuals with closer ties to the family of origin start families of their own at younger ages. Yet the effect of parent-child relationships on offspring's marital timing is moderated somewhat by the respondent's background. In addition to influencing when children marry, strong emotional support across generations tends to increase the probability of entering into a same-race union, rather than a racially exogamous union.

The third and final chapter of my dissertation examines how marriage and intermarriage in particular affects young adults' ties to parents. Family scholars today argue that modern marriage privileges self-fulfillment and a reliance on partners to fulfill emotional and social needs that did not characterize marriage among earlier generations. An emphasis on couple quality and the time and resources needed to maintain such partnerships may have negative consequences for ties to parents.

I use data from the most recent wave of National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and ask how marriage, and exogamous versus endogamous marriage in particular, are associated with ties to mothers. I also ask whether the association between offspring's union type and intergenerational ties are stronger for some groups compared to others, and whether the specific race of the partner matters. Findings from this chapter suggest that married children are not completely detached from mothers; rather, they occupy a middle ground. Married children tend to live nearby, but not close to mothers and tend to visit weekly, but not daily compared to those who are single. Who offspring marry also affects relationships with mothers. Children who married across race/ethnic lines are less likely to live near mothers compared to those who married within race/ethnic lines. Because of the geographic distance, these individuals are also less likely to visit or talk to mothers frequently compared to those who married within race/ethnic boundaries. However, the consequences of intermarriage are particularly detrimental for some groups compared to others. Hispanics, Asians and children of immigrants tended to have worse relationships with mothers following intermarriage compared to Whites and children of U.S. natives. These results highlight how intermarriage - a commonly understood mechanism that at the population level decreases the distance between groups - may in fact detrimentally affect ties among family members involved.

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