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University of Toronto St. George

Sociology of Aging Winter 2012 Week 7 Class Notes: Aging and Families I. Introduction – Aging and Families “The family, as a fundamental social institution, influences daily life and life chances through the life course.” – McPherson and Wister (2008), pg. 263, Aging as a Social Process. Why? Families are unique as social institutions in that they are fundamentally age-integrative Defining “family” is a notoriously tricky task.  compositional definitions e.g., The Canada census definition of family: “A married couple and the children, if any, of either or both spouses; a couple living common law and the children, if any, of either or both partners; or, a lone parent of any marital status with at least one child living in the same dwelling and that child or those children. All members of a particular census family live in the same dwelling. A couple may be of opposite or same sex. Children may be children by birth, marriage or adoption regardless of their age or marital status as long as they live in the dwelling and do not have their own spouse or child living in the dwelling. Grandchildren living with their grandparent(s) but with no parents present also constitute a census family.” ( Social scientists often see clear limitations of a narrow compositional idea of families:  functional definitions e.g., “A unit of intimate, transacting, and interdependent persons - who share some values, goals, resources for decisions and … - who have commitment to one another over time e.g., “The intimate group in which reproduction, socialization of the young, economic cooperation, and social status placement occur.” II. Emerging Trends in Kinship Structures 1. Kinship system has become longer (beanpole families – “vertical extension” but “horizontal shrinkage”) 2. Shift from an age-condensed structure to an age-gapped structure in many extended families 3. More truncated families 4. Increasing number of blended or reconstituted family after remarriage III. Norms and Expectations of Intergenerational Kinship Relationships Norms of intergenerational family life… (a) Depend on the family roles in question (e.g., norms for spousal relations differ for relations between parents and children) (b) Vary by social class, ethnicity, region, and other relevant basic social factors (c) May vary between specific families (d) Change over historical time Key norms related to intergenerational kinship relationships: 1 independence 1Figure adapted from Morgan, Leslie A. and Suzanne R. Kunkel, Aging, Society, and the Life Course, 2007, NY: Springer volunteerism obligation families dependence Norm of reciprocity: expected repayment of social and material debt between individuals (Alvin Gouldner) Types of exchange: Direct vs. indirect Equivalent vs. non-equivalent Norm of reciprocity is often solved more flexibly within family relationships than in other types of relationships Cultural variation in “rules for reciprocity” within family relationships (see today’s reading: Akiyama, Antonucci, and Campbell) Summary: Interesting potential intergenerational tensions as people interpret and enact norms related to independence- dependence and volunteerism-obligation
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