Multi-functional relationships after parental divorce and family members’ well-being

Vera de Bel, Marijtje van Duijn


The quality and strength of family relationships contribute to a multitude of beneficial individual outcomes such as well-being. Family networks of divorced families are more disjoint than those of non-divorced families, implying that the beneficial individual outcomes of family relationship may be less self-evident for family members of divorced families. In this study we will not only compare divorced and non-divorced family networks, but also investigate whether and how relationships in these family networks change after parental divorce and how this in turn affects family members’ well-being. Second, we investigate whether there is a cumulative advantage of multifunctional relationships. According to Social Production Function (SPF) theory, individuals strive for optimization of two universal goals: physical and social well-being. Comfort and stimulation are the needs required to achieve physical well-being, whereas status, behavioral confirmation and affection are the needs required for social well-being. An individual’s social relationships, with family and friends, consist of affection and various forms of support that are the resources to fulfill the three social needs of status, behavioral confirmation and affection. Some family relationships will not serve only one of these needs, but multiple needs simultaneously. For example, a parent can ask his own parent, i.e., the grandparent, for babysitting (instrumental support) and may as well receive affection from his own parent. Relationships in which multiple types of relational dimensions are transmitted are called multi-functional and are considered to be of high value for social well-being. Parental divorce may on the one hand increase the need for the development of affective and/or support relationships, but on the other hand may endanger the infrastructure required to accomplish this. Lifelines Family Ties data will be used to investigate a number of hypotheses using a multi-level analysis. The data consist of 43 family networks (24 divorced and 19 non-divorced) with current and retrospective – for divorced families at the time of divorce - information from 161 family members about 587 family members. First, the idea of “the more the merrier” will be analyzed, i.e., do family members who receive more affection and support score higher on well-being? Second, it will be investigated which relational dimension (affection, emotional, instrumental or material support) has the largest effect on family members’ well-being. Third, we study whether it matters from which family member (child, parent, grandparent, aunt/uncle, stepfamily) the affection and support was received, Fourth, whether family members having multi-functional relationships, are better off in terms of well-being than family members not having multi-functional relationships. Finally, we will investigate whether the effects are different in divorced and non-divorced families, and whether the strength of these effects change after parental divorce.

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