Merrill Silverstein, Syracuse University, NY USA

Intergenerational Relationships in Adulthood: The Challenges of Growing Family Complexity and Simplicity

In this presentation, I review the importance for developmental scientists in the 21st century to accommodate both complexity and simplicity in their models of intergenerational family functioning. On the one hand, families in many countries have become more complex with divorce and remarriage (and repartnering) increasing the prevalence of step-relations and blended families. On the other hand, families have become simpler by becoming smaller due to reduced fertility. What draws together these two types of change is their elevation of uncertainty about the family as a dependable source of support for older adults. Examples of complexity are taken from the United States where the divorce revolution and its aftermath have raised concerns about the reliability of adult children as support providers to older parents; examples of family simplicity are taken from China, where smaller families have produced concerns about the viability of adult children, particularly sons, as traditional sources of support for older parents. These issues are also discussed in terms of cultural expectations and societal preferences for how care is allocated between family and public sources.