From dyadic distance to network spatiality: Analysing the role of space on reciprocity in family ties in Switzerland

Gil Viry, Andreas Herz


A growing literature in social science is examining how space and place are inherently related to family life. Quantitative studies are often limited to examining the impact of physical distance on the strength of family ties, measured as the amount of contact or the emotional intensity. Reciprocity, which has been conceived as a force of social integration and solidarity that binds families together, has not yet received sufficient attention. Whether driven by normative pressure or self-interest, participation in reciprocal exchanges may be facilitated in family contexts characterised by social cohesion and mutual trust. Yet, reciprocity in family relationships has largely been studied by singling out specific dyads, such as intergenerational support to old parents, overlooking possible contextual effects of the family as a unit. Using multi-level modelling and data on the ego-centric networks of 666 adults living in Switzerland, this paper aims to address these knowledge gaps by examining the extent to which one-to-one reciprocity with respondents’ family members depends on the spatial characteristics of the respondents (e.g. migration background, residential environment), their family ties (e.g. physical distance) and family networks (e.g. their geographical dispersion).

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