Beyond Transmission: Intergenerational Patterns of Family Formation Among Middle-Class American Families


Research about parental effects on family behavior focuses on intergenerational transmission: that is, whether children show the same family behavior as their parents. This focus potentially overemphasizes similarity and obscures heterogeneity in parental effects on family behavior. In this study, we make two contributions. First, instead of focusing on isolated focal events, we conceptualize parents’ and their children’s family formation holistically as the process of union formation and childbearing between ages 15 and 40. We then discuss mechanisms likely to shape these intergenerational patterns. Second, beyond estimating average transmission effects, we innovatively apply multichannel sequence analysis to dyadic sequence data on middle-class American families from the Longitudinal Study of Generations (LSOG; N = 461 parent-child dyads). The results show three salient intergenerational family formation patterns among this population: a strong transmission, a moderated transmission, and an intergenerational contrast pattern. We examine what determines parents’ and children’s likelihood to sort into a specific intergenerational pattern. For middle-class American families, educational upward mobility is a strong predictor of moderated intergenerational transmission, whereas close emotional bonds between parents and children foster strong intergenerational transmission. We conclude that intergenerational patterns of family formation are generated at the intersection of macro-structural change and family internal psychological dynamics.

Demography, 51, 1703–1728