Applying within-family differences approaches to enhance understanding of the complexity of intergenerational relations

J. Jill Suitor, Megan Gilligan, Karl Pillemer, Karen L. Fingerman, Kyungmin Kim, Merril Silverstein, Vern L. Bengtson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Objectives: The role of family relationships in the lives of older adults has received substantial attention in recent decades. Scholars have increasingly looked beyond simple models of family relations to approaches that recognize the complex and sometimes contradictory nature of these ties. One of the most exciting conceptual and methodological developments is the application of within-family differences approaches. In this paper, we focus on the ways in which such within-family approaches can extend the understanding of patterns and consequences of intergenerational ties in adulthood. Method: Following a review of the conceptual underpinnings of within-family differences approaches, we provide empirical illustrations of these approaches from three projects conducted in the United States: the Family Exchanges Study (FES), the Longitudinal Study of Generations (LSOG), and the Within-Family Differences Study (WFDS). Results: Analyses from the FES, LSOG, and WFDS reveal differences in the consequences of patterns of intergenerational relations found when using within-family compared to between-family approaches. In particular, these analyses demonstrate considerable variation within families that shapes patterns and consequences of parent-adult child ties that is masked when such variations are not taken into account. Discussion: Within-family differences approaches have been shown to shed new light on intergenerational relations. Despite the value of within-family designs, their use may be limited by the higher investment of finances and time required to implement such studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40-53
Number of pages14
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Intergenerational support
  • Intergenerational transmission
  • Parent-adult child relations
  • Within-family differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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