Intergenerational Affectual Solidarity in Biological and Step Relations: The Moderating Role of Religious Similarity

AuthorMerril Silverstein,Joonsik Yoon,Maria T. Brown,Woosang Hwang
Date01 December 2019
Published date01 December 2019
W H, J Y, M S,  M T. B Syracuse
Intergenerational Affectual Solidarity in Biological
and Step Relations: The Moderating Role
of Religious Similarity
Objective: To examine whether intergenera-
tional religious concordance moderates the gap
in affectual solidarity between adult children
and their biological versus stepparents over an
11-year period.
Background: Previous studies have examined
the impact of religion on intergenerational rela-
tions in intact, nondivorced families. However,
few researchers have explored similar questions
regarding the impact of religion on intergenera-
tional relations in stepfamilies.
Method: Using latent growth curve models, we
assessed concordance–discordance in religious
afliation, religious attendance, and religious
intensity. Data derived from four waves of the
Longitudinal Study of Generations between
1994 and 2005 consisting of 238 mother–child
dyads and 148 father–child dyads, each group
consisting of both biological and step relations.
Results: Over the period studied, children had
consistently lower affectual solidarity with their
stepmothers and stepfathers than with their bio-
logical mothers and fathers. Tests of interac-
tions revealed that parent–child concordance in
religious afliation, but not in religious atten-
dance or religious intensity,was associated with
a smaller difference in affectual solidarity at
Aging Studies Institute, Syracuse University, 310A Lyman
Hall, Syracuse, NY 13244 (
Key Words: intergenerational solidarity, religious concor-
dance, stepfamilies, transition to adulthood.
baseline and over time between children and
their steppparents versus biological parents.
Conclusion: Parent–child religious afliation
concordance was more closely associated with
an increasing intergenerational affectual soli-
darity in biological parent–child relations than
in stepparent–child relations.
Implications: Differences in religious prac-
tice or beliefs need not be a major point of
intervention for helping professionals working
to avert or bridge cross-generational rifts or
insider–outsider challenges in stepfamilies.
The U.S. population aged 65 years and over
is projected to increase from 48 million in
2015 to approximately 98 million by 2060 (U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services,
2017), and adult children provided approxi-
mately 35 hours of care per week to those living
in the community but needing help with self-care
or mobility (Wolff et al., 2018). As such, factors
affecting intergenerational relations may have
important implications for elder care and aging
policy. Intergenerational solidarity, dened as
social cohesion between generations (Bengtson
& Oyama, 2007), implies that “family mem-
bers are connected to each other across gen-
erational boundaries” (Hwang, Silverstein, &
Brown, 2018, p. 1548). Research has consis-
tently demonstrated that intergenerational soli-
darity is weaker in step-relationships than in bio-
logical relationships, a phenomenon Steinbach
Family Relations 68 (December 2019): 549–564 549
550 Family Relations
and Hank (2016) labeled the intergenerational
step-gap. However, factors that promote posi-
tive perceptions of stepparents, such as religious
similarity, may mitigate the step-gap in affectual
solidarity by strengthening afnity between gen-
erations (Ganong, Coleman, & Jamison, 2011).
Although previous studies have examined the
impact of religion on intergenerational relations
in intact, nondivorced families, few researchers
have explored similar questions regarding the
impact of religion on intergenerational relations
in stepfamilies. Research has found that adults
who engaged in regular religious activities with
their mothers in childhood provide more assis-
tance to their mothers later in life (Silverstein,
Zuo, Wang, & Bengtson, 2019), but the role of
religion in intergenerational relationships within
stepfamilies has not been explored. Therefore, in
the present research, we use longitudinal dyadic
data over 11 years to examine whether religious
congruence between parents and adult children
serves as such a mitigating factor.
C F
This research is grounded in the intergen-
erational solidarity paradigm, the dominant
framework for understanding family relation-
ships across generations (Bengtson & Schrader,
1982; Silverstein, Bengtson, & Lawton, 1997).
This paradigm represents multiple dimensions
that describe how individuals are linked to mem-
bers of other generations. In the present research,
our interest is in affectual solidarity, arguably
the most fundamental and well-measured aspect
of the intergenerational solidarity framework
(Bengtson & Roberts, 1991).
Religious concordance represents a form
of consensual solidarity within the solidar-
ity framework. Consensual solidarity refers
to agreement in values, beliefs, and opinions
between generations, which forms the basis for
shared understandings of the world and provides
a basis for empathy and congenial relations.
Research indicates that wide disagreements of
opinion form the basis for weak afnity with
parents, as expressed by adult children (Giar-
russo, Feng, & Bengtson, 2004). Such ndings
provide support for the intergenerational stake
hypothesis, which states that parents consis-
tently perceive intergenerational relationships
more favorably than do their children as they
achieve independence and distance themselves
from the values of their parents. This difference
in perceptions is due to different stakes the
generations have in the intergenerational rela-
tionship, with parents, on the one hand, placing
greater importance on the continuity of their
values and the closeness of the family they built.
The children, on the other hand, place greater
importance on developing their own values and
their own social relationships, and therefore
place less value on the parent–child bond than
their parents as they establish their autonomy.
Religious independence of adult children may
serve a similar function in having adverse effects
on emotional closeness with parents.
T S-G  I
Numerous studies have documented that inter-
generational step-relations tend to be weaker
than biological relations in terms of emotional
intimacy, support exchanges, and frequency of
contact (Schnettler & Steinbach, 2011; Seltzer,
Yahirun, & Bianchi, 2013; Steinbach, 2013;
Suanet, van der Pas, & van Tilburg, 2013). The
step-gap is often attributed to strain caused by
the sudden introduction of a new parent-like
gure into the family with ambiguous role
responsibilities. Indeed, a substantial body of
work suggests that the stresses of divorce and
repartnering can place strains on intergenera-
tional family relationships (Ganong & Coleman,
2017; van der Pas, van Tilburg, & Silverstein,
However, there are important sources of vari-
ation in relationships between stepparents and
stepchildren (Ganong et al., 2011; Schmeeckle,
Giarrusso, Feng, & Bengtson, 2006). One such
source of variation is gender of the steppar-
ent. Stepchildren tend to maintain stronger ties
with stepfathers than with stepmothers (Kalmijn,
2013; King, 2006), a nding typically explained
by the kin-keeping efforts of biological mothers
to promote family networks within reconstituted
families. There is little basis to predict whether
religious concordance will be more consequen-
tial for reducing the step-gap in solidarity with
stepmothers or stepfathers, yet it may be rea-
sonable to expect a more pronounced effect in
the weaker relationship. Religious concordance
between stepparents and stepchildren may pro-
vide some degree of connection that may over-
come the social distance that tends to be found
in these relationships. In fact, evidence indicates
that joint family religious service attendance is

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