Substitution through network composition or higher tie efficiency? A cross-national comparison of the personal networks and patterns of support provision among parents and lifetime non-parents in later life

Sebastian Schnettler, Universität Konstanz
Valeria Bordone, Wittgenstein Centre (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU)

High prevalence of childlessness raises the questions if and how lifetime non-parents substitute the non-existence of adult children in their later-life support networks. They are found to be disadvantaged on several network and support indicators. But the role of different substitution mechanisms remains unresolved. Recent findings on Germany provide evidence that two compensation mechanisms play a role: changes in network size and composition, and higher tie efficiency. That is, extended kin and friends are more frequent in the personal networks of non-parents than of parents. Moreover, controlling for network size and composition, each network member is more likely to be considered as potential supporter by non-parents than by parents. We extend these findings to a cross-national comparison of Europeans aged 55-85 (N=39'666) from 16 countries, using data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). Data include 35'146 respondents with at least one child and 4'520 childless. We use wave 4 as it includes a module on social networks of respondents. Our analytical approach combines a descriptive account on the differences in network size/composition by parental status group and a series of multivariate regression models on the availability of potential and actual support. This study has several advantages: first, it allows us to examine how the different availability of certain network members in different countries affects the degree of the first compensation mechanism. Second, it allows us to test how welfare state differences moderate the degree of the second type of compensation. Third, the SHARE data allow an extension of the findings to actual support provision. Drawing on the literature on the disadvantage of non-parents when it comes to need, we test the assumption of higher tie efficiency in actual support exchange and add knowledge to the evidence on its role on perception of potential supporters.

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Presented in Poster Session 1