Parental separation and intergenerational support




pairfam, Germany, material support, emotional support, instrumental support


Objective: We investigate support between parents and adult children across families exposed and not exposed to parental separation in Germany, by examining multiple types of support (i.e. emotional, material, and instrumental), both directions of provision (i.e. giving and receiving), and exchanges with mothers and fathers.

Background: As parental separation may have implications for parent-child relationships and exchanges, with consequences for individuals' wellbeing, improving our understanding of the association between separation and support exchanges becomes paramount.

Method: Using data from the German Family Panel (pairfam, 2009-2016, N=4,340 respondents and 13,481 observations), we estimate a range of support exchanges between parents and children simultaneously using generalized linear regression models with correlated random terms across equations. Additionally, we assess whether these associations vary by the timing at which parental separation occurred and social background.

Results: Parental separation is negatively associated with support between parents and children, especially for fathers. However, no significant differences emerge between mothers who separated and mothers who did not in receiving material support from their children. The negative associations between parental separation and support between child and fathers are lower if parental separation occurs when the child is an adult. Further, when mothers are highly educated, separation has a less negative association with downward material support.

Conclusion: Overall, lower intergenerational assistance among families experiencing separation suggests increasing disadvantage for those already disadvantaged.


Albertini, M., Kohli, M., & Vogel, C. (2007). Intergenerational transfers of time and money in European families: common patterns—different regimes? Journal of European Social Policy, 17(4), 319-334. DOI:

Amato P.R. (2010). Research on divorce: Continuing trends and new developments. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(3), 650–666. DOI:

Antonucci, T. C., & Jackson, J. S. (1990). The role of reciprocity in social support. In B. R. Sarason, I. G. Sarason, & G. R. Pierce (Eds.), Wiley series on personality processes. Social support: An interactional view (p. 173–198). John Wiley & Sons.

Aquilino, W. S. (2005). Impact of family structure on parental attitudes toward the economic support of adult children over the transition to adulthood. Journal of Family Issues, 26(2), 143-167. DOI:

Bengtson, V. L., & Roberts, R. E. (1991). Intergenerational solidarity in aging families: An example of formal theory construction. Journal of Marriage and Family, 53(4), 856-870. DOI:

Bengtson, V. L. (2001). Beyond the nuclear family: the increasing importance of multigenerational bonds: the burgess award lecture. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(1), 1-16. DOI:

Bernardi, L., Huinink, J., & Settersten Jr, R. A. (2019). The life course cube: A tool for studying lives. Advances in Life Course Research, 41, 100258. DOI:

Boertien, D., Bernardi, F., & Härkönen, J. (2018). Family Structure and Socioeconomic Inequality of Opportunity in Europe and the United States. Unequal Family Lives. Causes and Consequences in Europe and the Americas; Cahn, N., Carbone, L., DeRose, F., Wilcox, WB, Eds, 165-178. DOI:

Bröckel, M., & Andreß, H. J. (2015). The economic consequences of divorce in Germany: what has changed since the turn of the millennium? Comparative Population Studies, 40(3). DOI:

Brüderl, J., Schmiedeberg, C., Castiglioni, L., Arránz Becker, O., Buhr, P., Fuß, D., & Schumann, N. (2022). The German Family Panel: Study Design and Cumulated Field Report (Waves 1 to 13), Release 13.0. Pairfam Technical Paper No. 01. Bonn, Germany: German Research Foundation.

Bulcroft, K. A., & Bulcroft, R. A. (1991). The timing of divorce: Effects on parent-child relationships in later life. Research on Aging, 13(2), 226-243. DOI:

Cobb-Clark, D. A., & Gørgens, T. (2014). Parents’ economic support of young-adult children: do socioeconomic circumstances matter? Journal of Population Economics, 27(2), 447-471. DOI:

Cooney, T. M., & Uhlenberg, P. (1992). Support from parents over the life course: The adult child's perspective. Social Forces, 71(1), 63-84. DOI:

Crosnoe, R., & Elder Jr, G. H. (2004). Family dynamics, supportive relationships, and educational resilience during adolescence. Journal of Family Issues, 25(5), 571-602. DOI:

Daatland, S. O. (2007). Marital history and intergenerational solidarity: The impact of divorce and unmarried cohabitation. Journal of Social Issues, 63(4), 809-825. DOI:

Davey, A., Eggebeen, D. J., & Savla, J. (2007). Parental marital transitions and instrumental assistance between generations: A within-family longitudinal analysis. Advances in Life Course Research, 12, 221-242. DOI:

Deindl, C. (2011). Finanzielle Transfers zwischen Generationen in Europa. Springer-Verlag. DOI:

Deindl, C., & Brandt, M. (2011). Financial support and practical help between older parents and their middle-aged children in Europe. Ageing & Society, 31(4), 645-662. DOI:

DiPrete, T. A., & Eirich, G. M. (2006). Cumulative advantage as a mechanism for inequality: A review of theoretical and empirical developments. Annual Review of Sociology, 32(1), 271-297. DOI:

Dorbritz, J. (2008). Germany: Family diversity with low actual and desired fertility. Demographic Research, 19, 557-598. DOI:

Dykstra, P. A. (1997). The effects of divorce on intergenerational exchange in families. The Netherlands Journal of Social Sciences, 33, 77–93.

Eggebeen, D. J., & Davey, A. (1998). Do safety nets work? The role of anticipated help in times of need. Journal of Marriage and Family, 60(4), 939-950. DOI:

Fingerman, K., Miller, L., Birditt, K., & Zarit, S. (2009). Giving to the good and the needy: Parental support of grown children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71(5), 1220-1233. DOI:

Fingerman, K. L., Kim, K., Davis, E. M., Furstenberg Jr, F. F., Birditt, K. S., & Zarit, S. H. (2015). “I'll give you the world”: Socioeconomic differences in parental support of adult children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77(4), 844-865. DOI:

Furstenberg, F. F., Hoffman, S. D., & Shrestha, L. (1995). The effect of divorce on intergenerational transfers: new evidence. Demography, 32(3), 319-333. DOI:

Gruber, J. (2004). Is making divorce easier bad for children? The long run implications of unilateral divorce. Journal of Labor Economics, 22(4):799–834 DOI:

Grundy, E. (2005). Reciprocity in relationships: socio-economic and health influences on intergenerational exchanges between Third Age parents and their adult children in Great Britain. The British Journal of Sociology, 56(2), 233-255. DOI:

Hämäläinen, H., Tanskanen, A. O., Danielsbacka, M., & Arpino, B. (2020). Short-term reciprocity between adult children and parents: A within-person investigation of longitudinal data. Advances in Life Course Research, 44, 100337. DOI:

Härkönen, J., Bernardi, F., & Boertien, D. (2017). Family dynamics and child outcomes: An overview of research and open questions. European Journal of Population, 33(2), 163-184. DOI:

Hornstra, M., Kalmijn, M., & Ivanova, K. (2020). Fatherhood in complex families: Ties between adult children, biological fathers, and stepfathers. Journal of Marriage and Family, 82(5), 1637-1654. DOI:

Huinink, J., Brüderl, J., Nauck, B., Walper, S., Castiglioni, L., & Feldhaus, M. (2011). Panel analysis of intimate relationships and family dynamics (pairfam): Conceptual framework and design. Zeitschrift für Familienforschung, 23(1), 77-101. DOI:

Huinink, J., & Kohli, M. (2014). A life-course approach to fertility. Demographic research, 30, 1293-1326. DOI:

Igel, C., & Szydlik, M. (2011). Grandchild care and welfare state arrangements in Europe. Journal of European Social Policy, 21(3), 210-224. DOI:

Isengard, B., König, R., & Szydlik, M. (2018). Money or space? Intergenerational transfers in a comparative perspective. Housing Studies, 33(2), 178-200. DOI:

Lin, I. F. (2008). Consequences of parental divorce for adult children’s support of their frail parents. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70(1), 113-128. DOI:

Kalmijn, M. (2007). Gender differences in the effects of divorce, widowhood and remarriage on intergenerational support: Does marriage protect fathers? Social Forces, 85(3), 1079-1104. DOI:

Kalmijn, M. (2013). Long-term effects of divorce on parent–child relationships: Within-family comparisons of fathers and mothers. European Sociological Review, 29(5), 888-898. DOI:

Kalmijn, M. (2019). The Effects of Ageing on Intergenerational Support Exchange: A New Look at the Hypothesis of Flow Reversal. European Journal of Population, 35(2), 263-284. DOI:

Kaufman, G., & Uhlenberg, P. (1998). Effects of life course transitions on the quality of relationships between adult children and their parents. Journal of Marriage and Family, 60(4), 924-938. DOI:

Keister, L. A. (2004). Race, family structure, and wealth: The effect of childhood family on adult asset ownership. Sociological Perspectives, 47(2), 161-187. DOI:

Klaus, D. (2009). Why do adult children support their parents? Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 40(2), 227-241. DOI:

König, R. (2016). Bildung, Schicht und Generationensolidarität in Europa. Springer-Verlag. DOI:

Leopold, T., & Schneider, T. (2011). Family events and the timing of intergenerational transfers. Social Forces, 90(2), 595-616. DOI:

Leopold, T., & Raab, M. (2013). The temporal structure of intergenerational exchange: A within-family analysis of parent–child reciprocity. Journal of Aging Studies, 27(3), 252-263. DOI:

Lersch, P. M., & Baxter, J. (2021). Parental separation during childhood and adult children’s wealth. Social Forces, 99(3), 1176-1208. DOI:

Lye, D. N. (1996). Adult child–parent relationships. Annual Review of Sociology, 22(1), 79-102. DOI:

Macmillan, R., & Copher, R. (2005). Families in the life course: Interdependency of roles, role configurations, and pathways. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67(4), 858–879. DOI:

Maes, M., Thielemans, G., & Tretyakova, E. (2020). Does Divorce Penalize Elderly Fathers in Receiving Help from Their Children? Evidence from Russia. In Divorce in Europe (pp. 167-182). Springer, Cham. DOI:

Manzoni, A. (2016). Conceptualizing and measuring youth independence multidimensionally in the United States. Acta Sociologica, 59(4), 362-377. DOI:

McGarry, K., & Schoeni, R. F. (1995). Transfer Behavior in the Health and Retirement Study: Measurement and the Redistribution of Resources within the Family. The Journal of Human Resources, 30, S184–S226. DOI:

McLanahan, S., Jacobsen, W. (2015). Diverging Destinies Revisited. In: Amato, P., Booth, A., McHale, S., Van Hook, J. (Eds) Families in an Era of Increasing Inequality. National Symposium on Family Issues, vol 5. Springer, Cham. DOI:

McLanahan, S., & Percheski, C. (2008) Family structure and the reproduction of inequalities. Annual Review of Sociology, 34, 257–276. DOI:

McLanahan, S. (2004). Diverging Destinies: How Children Are Faring Under the Second Demographic Transition. Demography 41(4), 607-627. DOI:

Meggiolaro, S., & Ongaro, F. (2015). Non-resident parent-child contact after marital dissolution and parental repartnering: Evidence from Italy. Demographic Research, 33, 1137-1152. DOI:

Merton, R. K. (1988). The Matthew effect in science, II: Cumulative advantage and the symbolism of intellectual property. isis, 79(4), 606-623. DOI:

Mood, C. (2010). Logistic regression: Why we cannot do what we think we can do, and what we can do about it. European Sociological Review, 26(1), 67-82. DOI:

Müller, B., & Castiglioni, L. (2015). Attrition im Beziehungs- und Familienpanel pairfam. In Nonresponse bias (pp. 383-408). Springer VS, Wiesbaden. DOI:

Muresan, C. (2017). Parental Breakup and Long Term Consequences on Support Behaviour to Aging Parents in Europe. Revista de Asistenta Sociala, (1), 93-105.

Parrott, T. M., & Bengtson, V. L. (1999). The effects of earlier intergenerational affection, normative expectations, and family conflict on contemporary exchanges of help and support. Research on Aging, 21(1), 73-105. DOI:

Rossi, A. S., & Rossi, P. H. (1990). Of human bonding: Parent-child relations across the life course. New York: A. de Gruyter.

Rossi, A. S., & Rossi, P. H. (1991). Normative obligations and parent-child help exchange across the life course. In K. A. Pillemer & K. McCartney (Eds.), Parent-child relations throughout life (pp. 201–223). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Saraceno, C., & Keck, W. (2010). Can we identify intergenerational policy regimes in Europe? European Societies, 12(5), 675-696. DOI:

Schenk, N., Dykstra, P., & Maas, I. (2010). The role of European welfare states in intergenerational money transfers: a micro-level perspective. Ageing & Society, 30(8), 1315-1342. DOI:

Schoeni, R. F., & Ross, K. E. (2005). Material Assistance from Families during the Transition to Adulthood. In R. A. Settersten, Jr., F. F. Furstenberg, Jr., & R. G. Rumbaut (Eds.), On the frontier of adulthood: Theory, research, and public policy (pp. 396–416). The University of Chicago Press. DOI:

Schmid, T. (2014). Generation, Geschlecht und Wohlfahrtsstaat: Intergenerationelle Unterstützung in Europa. Springer-Verlag. DOI:

Seltzer, J. A. (1994). Consequences of marital dissolution for children. Annual Review of Sociology, 20(1), 235-266. DOI:

Shapiro, A., & Cooney, T. M. (2007). Divorce and intergenerational relations across the life course. Advances in Life Course Research, 12, 191-219. DOI:

Silverstein, M., & Bengtson, V. L. (1997). Intergenerational solidarity and the structure of adult child-parent relationships in American families. American Journal of Sociology, 103(2), 429-60. DOI:

Silverstein, M., Conroy, S. J., Wang, H., Giarrusso, R., & Bengtson, V. L. (2002). Reciprocity in parent–child relations over the adult life course. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 57(1), S3-S13. DOI:

Silverstein, M., Gans, D., & Yang, F. M. (2006). Intergenerational support to aging parents: The role of norms and needs. Journal of Family Issues, 27(8), 1068-1084. DOI:

Steinbach, A. (2012). Intergenerational relations across the life course. Advances in Life Course Research, 17(3), 93-9. DOI:

Steinbach, A., Mahne, K., Klaus, D., & Hank, K. (2020). Stability and change in intergenerational family relations across two decades: Findings from the German ageing survey, 1996–2014. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 75(4), 899-906. DOI:

Szydlik, M. (2000). Lebenslange Solidarität? Generationenbeziehungen zwischen erwachsenen Kindern und Eltern. Germany: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. DOI:

Swartz, T. T. (2009). Intergenerational family relations in adulthood: Patterns, variations, and implications in the contemporary United States. Annual Review of Sociology, 35, 191-212. DOI:

Swartz, T. T., Kim, M., Uno, M., Mortimer, J., & O'Brien, K. B. (2011). Safety nets and scaffolds: Parental support in the transition to adulthood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 73(2), 414-429. DOI:

Thomas, M. J., Mulder, C. H., & Cooke, T. J. (2018). Geographical distances between separated parents: A longitudinal analysis. European Journal of Population, 34(4), 463-489. DOI:

Thönnissen, C., Wilhelm, B., Alt, P., Greischel, H., & Walper, S. (2019). Scales and Instruments Manual, pairfam waves 1 to 10 [Release 10.0]. Retrieved from

Ward, R. A., & Spitze, G. D. (2007). Nestleaving and coresidence by young adult children: The role of family relations. Research on Aging, 29(3), 257-277. DOI:

White, L. (1992). The effect of parental divorce and remarriage on parental support for adult children. Journal of Family Issues, 13(2), 234-250. DOI:

Wightman, P., Schoeni, R., & Robinson, K. (2012). Familial financial assistance to young adults. (National Poverty Center Working Paper Series No. 12-10). Retrieved from National Poverty Center website:

Zill, N., Morrison, D. R., & Coiro, M. J. (1993). Long-term effects of parental divorce on parent-child relationships, adjustment, and achievement in young adulthood. Journal of Family Psychology, 7(1), 91. DOI:




How to Cite

Manzoni, A., & Vidal, S. (2023). Parental separation and intergenerational support. Journal of Family Research, 35, 124–144.