Ageing and Society

Rethinking Theoretical and Methodological Issues in Intergenerational Family Relations Research

Balancing generations: on the strength and character of family norms in the West and East of Europe


a1 Norweigan Social Research (Nova), Oslo, Norway.


This article explores the strength and character of responsibility norms between older parents and adult children in a European context. Data from the ‘Generations and Gender Survey’ are analysed to compare seven countries from the North West to the South East of Europe: Norway, Germany, France, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia and Georgia. Norm strength is measured as the level of support for filial and parental responsibility norms. Character differences are indicated by how conditional the norms are, and how they are balanced between the younger and older generations. The general findings are in line with the family culture hypothesis – family norms are stronger towards the East and South of the continent, with Norway and Georgia as the extreme cases. National differences are considerable for filial norms, but moderate for parental norms. Parental responsibility is relatively stronger in the North West, filial responsibility in the South East. Family norms have a more open character in the West, where the limits to responsibility are widely recognised. Women are less supportive of family obligations than men. It is suggested that where the welfare state is more developed, it has moderated the demanding character of family obligations and allowed a more independent relationship between the generations to form. The level of support for filial obligation is for these reasons a poor indicator for family cohesion in more developed welfare states.

(Accepted September 05 2010)

(Online publication January 11 2011)


c1 Address for correspondence: Svein Olav Daatland, NOVA, PO Box 3223, Elisenberg, 0208 Oslo, Norway. E-mail: