Family Complexity and Adult Children’s Obligations: The Role of Divorce and Co-Residential History in Norms to Support Parents and Step-Parents

K. van Houdt, M. Kalmijn, K. Ivanova

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Generally, adult children are perceived to have obligations to support their parents, but now that divorce and remarriage are common phenomena, the question arises to which parent-figures this norm applies. We derive hypotheses on normative obligations towards step-parents and biological parents and the role of co-residential history and divorce. From the perspective of remarriage as an ‘incomplete institution’, we argue that obligations towards step-parents are more ambiguous and therefore more conditional. We collected unique vignette data (N = 4,783) as part of a nationally representative Dutch panel study and predicted norms on adult children’s obligations to provide socio-emotional and practical support using fixed-effects models. We found weaker norms to support step-parents. These are even weaker if there is no co-residential history and/or the step-parent divorced the child’s biological parent, while only co-residence affects norms to support biological parents, and less so than for step-parents. The most ‘disadvantaged’ type of biological parent (divorced, non-residential) is still more advantaged than the most ‘advantaged’ step-parent (married, residential), emphasizing the importance of biology. Analysis of residual variance shows less consensus on obligations towards step-parents than biological parents. It seems that given the absence of clear norms of behaviour, normative obligations towards step-parents are more conditional.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169–183
JournalEuropean Sociological Review
Volume34
Issue number2
Early online date14 Mar 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018

Keywords

  • family complexity
  • norms
  • children

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