Guest blogger – ‘Intergenerational Relations in Migrant- and Stepfamilies’ by Anja Steinbach

Our long-time RC06 member and friend, Anja Steinbach, is our guest blogger of December. Anja shares with us her research insights on intergenerational relations in migrant and stefamilies. And what a pressing issue to discuss as we end 2015. Please leave your comments and feedback below.

Anja Steinbach is a Professor of Sociology and department chair at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. Her research focuses on family studies and migration. Her teaching and research interests include divorce and remarriage, demography, intergenerational relations and transmission, interethnic relations, migration and integration, life course research, and cross-cultural approaches. You can find her here.

Intergenerational Relations in Migrant- and Stepfamilies

It was in 1999 when I was not only attending the first RC06 seminar “Migrant and Ethnic Minority Families” in Berlin, but organized it together with Bernhard Nauck, the president of the CFR board at this time. And it was not only my first RC06 seminar; but it was my very first conference attendance at all, as I started as a PhD student in 1998. Thus, it was also my very first presentation at a conference, addressing intergenerational relations in repatriate (Russian-German) families in Germany. So, from the very beginning of my scientific career, my research interests have been on intergenerational relations in migrant families. However, my most recent presentation (together with Karsten Hank from the University of Cologne) at a RC06 seminar – the “Aging Families/Changing Families” conference, jointly organized with RC11 at Syracuse University in June 2015 – was on intergenerational relations in stepfamilies. In this blog posting I would like to bring together all of my research interests of the last decade: Intergenerational relations in migrant- and stepfamilies.

Since Bengtson and colleagues started in the 1970s with their theoretical and empirical work on intergenerational relations to answer the question whether familial solidarity between parents and their adult children is declining, because of manifold changes in US society, there has been an overwhelming amount of research done in all parts of the world on this topic. The positive result of all these research activities is that, almost universally, relations between parents and adult offspring are quite close with frequent contact and exchange of help. In Europe a north-south divide can be observed, with closer relations in the south and less close relations in the north. Taking everything together, though, there is no reason for concern: Between parents and children as well as grandparents and grandchildren reciprocate feelings as well as responsibilities (especially in times of needs) exist. Taking into account the importance of support between generations and specific demographic processes – like migration flows on the one hand or the rising number of divorces and remarriages on the other hand – the question arises, if in spite of the overall positive picture some social groups are disadvantaged, for example migrants or stepfamily members.

The migrant families share is significant in most of the countries. But because of their diversity – usually there’s more than one migrant group in a country – it is quite difficult to get data with satisfying numbers of migrants for elaborated analyses. Above that, if migrants are included in a survey so that they can be compared with natives, the questionnaire is usually phrased in the native language. However, since migrants are a substantial part of the population we should try our very best to get at least some knowledge about their (family) relations. Regarding the quality of intergenerational relations there are some factors, which lead to an expectation of differences between natives and migrants: On the one hand, migrant families are more or less affected by their socio-cultural background of their country of origin. This is often manifested in differences regarding familial norms, expectations, and also behaviors. On the other hand, the migration experience itself – together with the process of integration – could be a challenge for intergenerational solidarity. Tying up with these considerations in migration (or more precisely integration) research two different hypotheses with antagonistic prognoses can be found: As the solidarity hypothesis claims a strong closeness in migrant families, the conflict hypothesis postulates that relations of parents and children in migrant families are characterized by a high degree of tensions and conflicts. An empirical test of these hypotheses conducted by myself and my former colleagues Helen Baykara-Krumme and Daniela Klaus shows for the two biggest groups of migrants in Germany (Turks and Russian repatriates) that the differences between natives and migrants regarding intergenerational solidarity are overestimated in the theoretical discussion. In accordance with other studies, which investigated single aspects of intergenerational relations, we concluded that one can generalize that emotional closeness is high in all families and conflict is relatively rare. By and large, the conflict hypothesis could be refuted and the solidarity hypothesis could be verified.

Regarding the differences in intergenerational relations of members of nuclear families and stepfamilies the hypotheses are not that clear: Here often the hypothesis of residence stands against the hypothesis of biology. Family structures of stepfamilies can be highly complex and very often are included in cross-household constellations. Usually stepfamilies are formed after a separation or divorce of the biological parents as one or both of them enter new partnerships. The separation can either occur when the child is minor or adult. In the former case, the question is whether the child ever lived with the stepmother or the stepfather in the same household. The split up of the parents and the re-partnering could of course also occur when the child is an adult with completely other consequences for the relations to biological and social parents. The relevant factors here (next to the relations between the parents, their resources, the existence of (step-)siblings and (step-)grandparents, etc.) are: The age of the child when the separation or divorce occurred and the length of living with the different types of parents (mother/father/stepmother/stepfather). This is especially interesting in the context of a new development of the placement of children after a parental split up. In some countries like Belgium or Sweden one third of the children of separated or divorced parents live under the condition of shared physical custody (that is, children live an equal amount of time with the biological mother (and her new partner) and the biological father (and his new partner)). This was a widely discussed topic at the CFR seminar on “New Family Forms following Family Dissolution” in Leuven in 2012. Results indicate that the relations of stepparents and stepchildren in adulthood are mediated by the biological parents. The intergenerational relations of stepparents and stepchildren are worse on every dimension, but if the child is in frequent contact with the biological parent and they feel close to each other, the relation to the partner of this parent (which is the stepparent) is usually not that bad. Very recent studies show that it is no problem to have pretty good relations with three or four parents and this could be a future scenario with more families living after separation with shared physical custody. An important prerequisite, however, would be a much greater engagement of fathers in childrearing.

Comparing intergenerational relations of natives and migrants living in stepfamily constellations leads us to the intersection of all topics. In one of my studies I could show that the influence of family structure on parent–child contact rates was the same for immigrants as for natives, despite solid theoretical reasons to expect a stronger negative effect for immigrants. Turkish parents see their adult children more often than German parents, yet similar effects of different family structures held in Germany for both Turks and Germans. From this, I concluded that the potential support of adult children for a parent who lives alone or in a new partnership in old age is less than the potential support for biological parents who live in an intact partnership. The potential support for stepparents is even lower. Thus, older parents living alone or in a new partnership and stepparents are in danger of receiving too little care, but between immigrants and native Germans there is no difference in this respect.

Regarding intergenerational relations in migrant- and stepfamilies, not much research has been done yet. The reason is very simple: We have huge data limitations, because the proportion of migrants and members of stepfamilies in the overall population is relatively small. Thus, migrants as well as stepfamily members are difficult to study because in official statistics we usually can’t identify them and in social surveys capturing families they are underrepresented. Thus, we should try hard to gather adequate data in the future. In a perfect world, such data would have a large number of observations, be longitudinal, and internationally comparable.

Call for Papers – 2016 RC06 Conference on Family Research: “Social Change and Family Developments”

Social Change and Family Developments” is an international conference co-sponsored by the Institute of Sociology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and our committee. The conference will take place from May 25th to 28th, 2016 at the Institute of Sociology, CASS, Beijing, China. On behalf of both sponsors, the local organizing committee cordially invites family sociologists, demographers, and other interested social scientists to participate in this event.

Plenary sessions on family changes around the globe are planned and noted international family scholars will be invited to deliver keynote speeches. Parallel sessions will allow up to 60-70 oral presentations, in addition to several concurrent poster sessions.

The conference theme encompasses a wide range of potential research topics on family from sociological, demographic, economic, psychological, and educational perspectives. To list several possible session titles:

– Changing family structures and family relations
– Changing marriage patterns in East Asia
– Family and migration
– Family transitions and well-being for children and adults
– Aging families: grandparenthood, elderly care
– Family values: ideational shifts on family change
– Balancing work and family in the global age
– Family influences on educational and occupational attainment
– Intergenerational relations
– Comparative family studies
– Emerging youth issues on the transition to adulthood
– Institutional impacts on the family and policy responses to family changes

The local organizing committee also welcomes other suggestions. Please email Zhao Kebin (, Deputy Director of Institute of Sociology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

If you’re interested in this conference, please observe the following timetable:

Deadline to submit an abstract: January 31st, 2016
Notification of the status of your submission: February 29th, 2016
Due date for the full paper: May 15th, 2016

Please send your abstract to Dr. Yu Jia:

More specific information regarding the logistics will be posted on the conference website.

Guest blogger – ‘Individualisation, Internationalisation and Family Policy’ by Michael Rush

The local organizer of the Rc06 seminar in Dublin, Michael Rush, is our guest blogger this month. Michael, Tony, and their team organized an outstanding event for our community and we are thrilled to share this post with our members. Please leave your comments and feedback below.

Michael Rush is a College Lecturer in the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice at University College Dublin and member of RC06. From 2009 to 2013, he was the government appointed representative for Ireland on the European Union Alliance for Families Network. His new book is titled “Between Two Worlds of Father Politics: USA or Sweden?” It is published by Manchester University Press (2015). The book presents a critical framework for comparing ways of understanding fatherhood and national variations in ‘father-friendly’ parental leave policies, Child Support Schemes and variations in the decline in patriarchy across advanced capitalist regions and welfare states including, the USA, Sweden, the European Union, Ireland, the UK, Japan and China. Other new publications include Rush, M. (2015) “Theorising Fatherhood, Welfare and the Decline of Patriarchy in Japan”, International Review of Sociology/Revue Internationale de Sociologie Vol 25, 3, plus Rush, M. And Seward, R.R. (2015) ‘Changing Fatherhood and fathering across cultures towards convergence in work-life balance: divergent progress or stalemate?’ In Crespi, I. & Ruspini, E. (eds) “Balancing Work and Family in Changing Society: The Father’s Perspective”, New York: Palgrave MacMillan. With his partner Liz, they have two sons, Tadhg and Lorcan. You can find him here.

Individualisation, Internationalisation and Family Policy

Alongside my esteemed colleague Professor Tony Fahey from our School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, I had the privilege of organising the annual ISA RC06 Committee on Family Research seminar for 2015 in the fair city of Dublin, on the island of Ireland. Our proposal to hold the 2015 seminar in Dublin was accepted by the Board of RC06 one year previously at a specially convened meeting during the XVIII ISA World Congress of Sociology in the city of Yokohama. In attendance for the meeting were Chin-Chun Yi, the President of RC06, from Academia Sinica, Taiwan, and Mark Hutter, the Vice-President, from Rowan University, USA. Also present was out-going board member, Rudy Ray Seward, who is considered a friend by many, including myself, and with whom I have had the opportunity of co-authoring several conference papers and also a co-authored book chapter on global fatherhood and work-life balance policies.

One of my lasting memories of the ISA World Congress in Yokohama was “Our Message to the World” from the Japan Sociological Society, which emphasised supranational sociology and the call for “involved” social scientists to inform public policy making in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The resonance of this message now echoes even more loudly as refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea urgently plead for transnational policy settlements and solutions to the Refugee Crisis. At the heart of the Japan Sociological Society’s (JSS) Message to the World was a fresh dedication to principles of internationalization and international co-operation that have been maintained by the ISA since its establishment in 1948 and by the JSS since its establishment two years later in 1950. So, when it came to choosing a theme for the 2015 RC06 seminar Dublin, it seemed like a progressive move to build on the principles of internationalisation and to focus specifically on individualisation in relation to family policy. It was this type of thinking which led us to arrive at the title of ‘Individualisation, Internationalisation and Family Policy’ for the Dublin seminar. The title of the seminar reflected my colleague Tony Fahey’s research in family sociology, family policy and demography and my own research on comparative family policy, welfare state variations, gender, fatherhood and the decline of patriarchy.

Sib Size Convergence

Our proposal to host the RC06 seminar was enthusiastically supported by the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, in the College of Social Sciences and Law, University College Dublin (UCD), which is Ireland’s largest university with almost 25,000 students. This support was critical to the success of the seminar. As was the location of the seminar in Dublin, which is famed in literature, song and verse and which acts a gateway to Ireland’s wild Atlantic western coast and the beautiful coastal and mountainous scenery of counties Cork, Kerry and Wicklow. However, what was critical academically was the title of the seminar which attracted papers on the decline of patriarchy in East-Asia and a range of papers on how family policy was responding to the rise of individualisation in inter-generational and adult relationships. The seminar identified convergence around reduction in ‘sib size’ or the numbers of biological siblings we grow up with, which was presented by my colleague Tony Fahey as a phenomenon of ‘individualisation’ that was reducing inequality over time across families in the USA. From South American colleagues we learned about the limits to the ability of families to sustain social cohesion. In addition, adolescence was presented as a period of increased risk in the life-cycle by colleagues from across the globe including those from the USA, Africa, and South America.

Internationalisation and Individualisation of well-paid parental and family Leave

Several papers highlighted the role of economic precarity in weakening the capacity of families to offer care and welfare, especially to older family members. Other papers showed evidence of new intergenerational dependencies being created in the West while in East Asia, on the other hand, the decline of patriarchy was seen to be loosening or individualising intergenerational ties as married partners concentrated on looking after each other’s older parents rather than both partners looking after the husband’s parents. Indeed, the individualisation of caring responsibilities between men and women in families, both for children and older people, and concepts of shared parenting and shared residencies for children featured in a number of presentations. My paper focused on the concept of individualisation as applied by family policy and social policy to ‘non-transferable’ quotas of parental leave being made available to mothers and fathers and how this type of Nordic approach to parental leave was being adopted by several European Union member states. My presentation also highlighted that the USA and the English-speaking welfare states were lagging behind the EU states in the provision and individualisation of well-paid family leave or parental leave but that Japan had taken a ‘Nordic turn’ towards individualisation and gender equality in work-life balance policies.

Gender Equality and Social Care

It is not possible to mention all the papers, as there were over fifty presentations over three days but we had the opportunity to discuss topics which varied from young marriage in Taiwan to reproductive services and abortions or terminations in Israel, India, Ireland, Great Britain and Australia. We were especially happy to see a strong representation of scholars from East Asia and other world regions outside of the European and Anglophone spheres. The breadth of international participation gave the seminar a wider perspective on welfare state development and family policies. The presentations made clear that that international cooperation towards gender equality was considered to be a global ‘public good’ and that family policy debates about balancing paid work with care concerned the ongoing development of both men’s and women’s social citizenship rights as workers and carers. In this regard it was refreshing to hear children’s social citizenship rights being highlighted in relation to their equality of access to parents’ separate residences and the findings from Spain that older people did not want to be a burden on their adult off-spring. The lesson for family policy was that welfare states require systems of social care to support working parents across a range of household types and children and older people required levels of de-familization for access to quality social care and child care outside the family. Where care was being re-familized progressively, it was not through families having to crowd together in the face of austerity and precarity, but through the provision of individualised and ‘non-transferable’ quotas or periods of well-paid parental and family care leave.

Dublin Seminar attracts new RCO6 members

To finish on a lighter note, the partners and children many participants brought to the Dublin seminar to enjoy Ireland’s scenery and hospitality made the occasion all the more memorable and pleasurable. Many partners and children came to the evening reception in Ardmore House on the UCD campus, which turned into a lively family event with children’s laughter ringing out loud. What also added to the success of the seminar was the number of new RC06 members in attendance. At the reception, Chin-Chun Yi asked all the first-time attendees at an RC06 event to raise their hands, and there were many. Chin–Chun then asked all the participants from East-Asia to raise their hands and they were many also. Indeed, Chin-Chun remarked that it was probably the largest gathering of RC06 family scholars from East-Asia she had witnessed coming together outside East-Asia. Finally, Chin–Chun asked all the new RC06 members to raise their hands and there were many of these also. It was important too, though, that many long-standing RC06 members attended the Dublin seminar including our Honorary President and internationally esteemed scholar, Jan Trost, who graced the seminar by chairing sessions and providing lively participation throughout the Q and A sessions. The opening reception in Ardmore Housed also benefited from the presence of Renata Kaczmarska, the United Nations Focal Point on the Family, who is based in New York, but who travelled to the RC06 seminar to network with ‘involved’ social scientists with a view to developing more informed global family policy initiatives (see her picture below). Renata gave the opening speech for the seminar. She emphasised the importance of networking between family policy scholars and global family policy makers. The Radisson Blu St Helen’s Hotel, just across the road from the UCD Belfield Campus, provided the location for the keynote paper by Professor Göran Therborn, which offered a state-of-the art perspective on Dialectics of Individualisation followed by a lively Q and A session. The keynote paper was followed by a drinks reception with accompanying music from an Irish harpist and a seminar dinner of fine Irish produce and free flowing conversation and laughter.

It was a great privilege to organise the Dublin 2015 seminar and we hope it long stays in the memory of RC06 members who came along. On behalf of Tony and myself, we would like to thank Paula McGarry, Jennifer McGowan, and Elizabeth Hassell from the management and administration sections of the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, plus Breda Byrne and Orla O’Dea from the UCD Procurement Office, who all contributed hugely to the smooth progress of the seminar. Finally, I would like to thank Barbara Barbosa Neves, the RC06 Secretary and Treasurer, for inviting me to write this guest blog and for her invaluable support in organising the Dublin 2015 seminar.

The presentations mentioned in this blog post along with most of the others from the Dublin seminar will be available online soon and a link will be provided in our next newsletter.

RushPic2 Renata Kaczmarska and Chin-Chun Yi (left to right)