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The Generational Structure of U.S. Families and Their Intergenerational Transfers

July 2016

Emily e. Wiemers, University of Massachusetts Boston, Judith A. Seltzer, University of California Los Angeles, Robert F. Schoeni, University of Michigan, V. Joseph Hotz, Duke University, and Suzanna M. Bianchi (1952 - 2013)

Download '2016-05-npc-working-paper.pdf'.


Change over time in life expectancy, divorce, and the birth of children outside of marriage has reshaped families in the United States. In this paper we use new data on family relationships and transfers in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to provide a demographic portrait of the generational structure of adults in contemporary American families and to describe the connections between family members across generations characterized by the time and financial resources that they provide to one another. Ours is the first paper to examine the generational structure of and transfers between adults across adult ages. Throughout we emphasize the gender differences in the availability of kin and the connections between generations. We find that adults are overwhelmingly likely to have at least one living parent or adult child in their extended family, that step relationships are very common, and that the latter relationships increase substantially the size of extended families. We also find that more distant family relationships, such as step and in-law relationships, are correlated with fewer transfers, particularly transfers to and from women. With step relationships more common among younger adults, our results suggest a need to consider how family transfers may change in the future.

Marriage, Family Formation and Reproductive Issues, Research Methods