The aim of this chapter is to highlight the development of the conceptual and theoretical bases on which the intergenerational solidarity–conflict and ambivalence paradigms were shaped. Further analysis of the two paradigms can provide insight for understanding the complex social phenomenon of intergenerational family relations in later life. In this chapter we will address and analyse the two models and discuss empirical evidence regarding their impact on quality of life, based on OASIS (Old Age and Autonomy: The Role of Service Systems and Intergenerational Family Solidarity).
Changes in the structure of society caused by global ageing (Kinsella, 2000), and new ideologies, resulted in changed family structures and patterns of behaviour. Some scholars perceived disengagement and isolation from the large family as adaptive and functional strategies, not only for the young but for the older generation as well (Ogburn, 1938; Sussman, 1991). However, most studies of intergenerational family relationships revealed that adult children were not isolated from their parents but frequently interacted with them and exchanged assistance, even when separated by large geographic distances (Silverstein and Bengtson, 1997; Katz et al, 2005). The strength of obligation and positive regard across generations was hardly diminished by geographic separation.
Family sociologists showed that the extended family maintains cross-generational cohesion through modern communications and transportation. It became clear that the family, and not the welfare system, continues to take responsibility and provides most of the care for older parents (Abel, 1991; Lowenstein et al, 2008). Data from cross-national studies (for example OASIS, SHARE [Survey of Health and Retirement in Europe], VOC [Value of Children]) indicate that family relations and exchange of support between family generations is still strong but may seek other expressions when circumstances change (Silverstein and Bengtson, 1997; Boersch-Supan et al, 2005; Katz et al, 2005; Lowenstein and Daatland, 2006; Lowenstein, 2007).
Burgess (1926) defined the family as a ‘unity of interacting personalities’ (p 3). Bourdieu's (1996) perspective on the family was based on the central theme of capital and habitus, focusing on intergenerational transmission of different types of capital, referring to three types – economic, social and cultural: economic – income and inheritance; social – knowledge and specific identities of individuals; and cultural – embodied cultural capital – the legitimation for preferences, practices and behaviours based on past experiences within the family.