Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Human Development and Family Studies
Human Development and Family Studies
Recent demographic shifts in the United States have substantially altered family structure. These shifts include an increase in the average life span, smaller family sizes, and changes in marriage patterns including individuals who never marry, divorce, remarry, and cohabitate (Silverstein & Giarruso, 2010; Wu, 2014). Taken together, these factors have resulted in increasingly complex family forms. These shifts in family structure have implications for family process including the quality of relationships across and within generations (Uhlenberg, 1996). Previous work has focused on examining relationship quality in the family of origin (e.g., parents and siblings). A potential consequence of focusing on families of origin is that researchers may overlook the role of other family systems including the extended family.
Utilizing a population of 491 emerging adults (ages 18-25), I examined the association between characteristics of emerging adults (e.g., gender, closeness with family of origin, and romantic relationship status) and relationship quality (i.e., closeness and conflict) with extended family. I then evaluated how relationship quality (e.g., closeness and conflict) with extended family members is associated with emerging adults’ well-being (i.e., self-acceptance and loneliness). In both papers, two measures for each relationship quality variable were created (average closeness, highest closeness, average conflict, highest conflict). Highest closeness and highest conflict were included to capture the extremes found within family relationships, and average closeness and average conflict were created to capture an overall assessment of relationship quality across all extended family members.
Results of the first paper indicated that gender is associated with emotional closeness in relationships between emerging adults and their extended family members. Specifically, women were more likely than men to indicate having close relationships with their extended family members. Results also indicated that the quality of relationships between emerging adults and their families of origin was highly correlated with relationship quality between emerging adults and their extended family members. Finally, the results of the first paper indicated that emerging adult romantic relationship status is not associated with close relationships with extended family members.
The results of the second paper demonstrated that conflict (e.g., average & highest) with extended family members was associated with higher levels of loneliness and lower levels of self-acceptance. Results also indicated that closeness (e.g., average and highest) with extended family members was associated with lower levels of reported loneliness, and higher levels of self-acceptance. Emerging adult gender was found to moderate the relationship between highest closeness and self-acceptance. This effect was stronger for men than for women.
The findings of these two papers were consistent with the broader family of origin literature, but provide unique insight into familial relationships that extend beyond the family of origin. These results also help develop a clearer picture of the characteristics of emerging adulthood (e.g., gender, closeness with family of origin, and romantic relationship status), as well as emerging adults’ well-being (e.g., loneliness and self-acceptance).
Marissa E Holst
Holst, Marissa E., "Family networks and emerging adulthood: The modern extended family" (2017). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 15531.