Published: October 19, 2020


Download: Life Course Centre Working Paper: 2020-24.

Authors:

Ambra Poggi & Guyonne Kalb

Non-technical Summary:

Social bonds and supportive relationships (social support) are widely recognised as being indispensable to healthy psychological functioning and wellbeing. Social connections form a resource pool facilitating an individual’s wellbeing. These resources may include, for example, access to useful information, company (e.g., personal and intimate relationships, someone to talk to), emotional support (e.g., support when experiencing distressing personal or family matters), and instrumental support (e.g., financial support, household administration, home-making). More broadly, supportive relationships serve as buffers that diminish the negative consequences of stressful life events.

In this paper, we focus on the level of social support as perceived to be available by the individual and we investigate the presence of intergenerational transmission of social support which we hypothesise to be mediated by the intergenerational transmission of the social competence needed to build supportive relationships. The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) data include information on perceived social support for all household members aged 15 and over, allowing us to assess the impact of social support experienced by the parents during an individual’s childhood on the individual’s capacity to establish adequate social support in adult life. The level of social support experienced by the parents is measured during childhood/adolescence.

The key result is that, in addition to individual characteristics and other parental outcomes, the social support experienced by parents is an important predictor of the level of social support experienced by young adults. In particular, the mother’s social support is an important predictor of the level of social support experienced by young female adults, while the father’s social support is an important predictor of the level of social support experienced by young male adults. Intergenerational transmission of social support is further evidenced in an alternative specification based on sibling observations in which we account for common factors within a family, again concluding that some individuals experience more social support when they are aged in their twenties than other individuals as a result of the family environment in childhood. In particular, social support experienced by parents explains about 16% of the initial family variance experienced by siblings. The level of social support experienced by young adults is negatively correlated with parenting stress and parental financial difficulties in childhood/adolescence suggesting that these factors may act as barriers in the intergenerational transmission of behaviour and values.