Felt obligation and the family life cycle: A study on intergenerational relationships

Annalisa Rossi Del Corso, Margherita Lanz
Published Online:
05 Feb 2014
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 48 Issue 6

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Since the 1990s researchers have considered as the dominant view on family obligation a set of responsibilities, duties, and obligation of care and assistance, that adult children should assume when parents are old or infirm. This concept is limited, because it assumes that family obligation is salient only in one period of life: when parents reach old age and are infirm. In contrast, a relational approach to family obligation considers family relationships as central to understanding children's duties and responsibilities. Following Stein, family obligation can be defined as felt obligation: expectations for appropriate and negotiated behaviour, perceived within the context of specific personal relationships with kin across life course. Felt obligation is conceptualized in five dimensions: a duty to maintain contact, assistance, avoidance of conflict, personal sharing, and self‐sufficiency. The purpose of the present study was to analyze perceptions of felt obligation in intergenerational relationships (parent–child and family of origin) in different phases of the family life cycle in a specific cultural context (Italy). The sample was composed of 92 parents with children of different ages (infants, school‐aged children, and young adults). The measure addressed the five dimensions of felt obligation, all assessed in various phases of family life. Results indicated differences in dimensions of felt obligation between intergenerational relationships (both parent–child and with family of origin). Some of these differences, such as self‐sufficiency and personal sharing, assumed more importance and salience in some periods of the life cycle than in others.

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