On the Fence of a Family: Dynamics of Inter-generational Transfers in Stepfamilies

TitleOn the Fence of a Family: Dynamics of Inter-generational Transfers in Stepfamilies
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsHe, J
Conference NamePopulation Association of America Meeting
KeywordsAdult children, intergenerational relationships, motivations of transfers, stepfamilies

The growing prevalence of family complexity in the United States calls into question
the notion of family boundaries. Past research has shown weaker stepkin support
consistently but has not explored the dynamics of exchanges. This paper studies how
stepkin respond to each other’s past signals of help in providing future interpersonal
support, financial transfers, and contacts compared to biological kin to sheds light
on stepkin’s different motivations of support and relationship norms. I propose an
“on-the-fence” theory and three hypotheses suggesting dynamic stepkin relationships
subject to their past interactions. Using data of the Health and Retirement Study
(HRS) from 1996 to 2014 and within-family fixed effects models, major hypotheses
are confirmed. I find that despite the lower transfers among stepkin when no past
signals of help are present (low-bar expectation hypothesis), stepkin respond to the
other’s signals with a larger increase of parents’ monetary transfers, contacts, and
adult children’s interpersonal support compared to biological kin (sensitivity response
hypothesis), but not a larger increase in parent’s expectation or parents’ grandchild
care support (differential convergence hypothesis). Results also vary depending on
specific step status (child-stepmother or child-stepfather). Overall, the study provides
a picture of dynamic stepkin relationship and family boundary.

Citation Key11692