Frequency of contact with close kin: differences by family type

Trees De Bruycker, Ghent University
Ronan Van Rossem
Hilary Page, Ghent University

The 20th century, more especially its second half, saw profound changes in the family and in living arrangements in Western societies. The process of change in the family was accompanied by a change in values and attitudes, resulting in a greater diversity and voluntarism in family formation and the family network. Kin relationships can be expected, therefore, to be at least in part the result of a selective process based on personal attitudes, values and ideas concerning the family. However, although selection has become important, the size and structure of the family network can also determine the relations between family members, given the limited time and resources individuals can invest in different relationships. This paper focuses on the impact of selection versus structure on the differences in contact frequency with close kin for adults living in different family types (single, formerly married, cohabitating, married, stepfamily). A structural equation path model analysis was performed on the Netherlands Kinship Panel (NKPS) dataset, based on a random sample of 8155 adults living in private households in the Netherlands. This analysis reveals considerable differences in contact frequency by family type, with individuals living in a standard marriage having a higher contact frequency than those living in other family types. For the singles their markedly lower contact frequency can be traced both to a weaker orientation to family and to having fewer close kin living relatively close by. For the other family types, the selection mechanism is not significant, whereas the structural mechanism produces significant results, with network size, geographical proximity and the co-residence of children and parents in the household being of key importance. The importance of the structural determinants makes us conclude that real insights in family relations are only possible when we consider the larger framework of the family network.

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Presented in Session 7: Intergenerational relations