Intergenerational contact across marriage and cohabitation in Italy. Something new?

Elena Pirani, Università di Firenze

As far as cohabitation became increasingly popular as a form of union beside marriage, scholars started to question if this alternative way to form a romantic union shapes differently intergenerational ties. Empirical literature generally offered proofs that the type of union is negatively associated with intergenerational contact, especially in traditional societies. Past research for the Italian context was in line with this assumption. We intend to assess the effect of choosing cohabitation relative to marriage on the frequency of contact with mother in contemporary Italy, a country where the strong family system is still exercising a main role within the society, but where the force of change in family behaviours is increasing year after year. Using data from a large, nationally representative survey, we study the frequency of contact mother-adult child across marriage and cohabitation, considering three measures of contact: face-to-face contact, telephone contact and mixed contact. In order to overcome endogeneity and selectivity problems, we adopt a simultaneous equation approach. Our findings prove that adult Italians cohabitors of the end of 2000s have a lower probability to meet personally their mother on daily basis relative to marrieds, but they are more likely to have frequent phone calls with her; overall, no differences across marrieds and cohabitors appear when considering a composite indicator of mixed contact. We advance that when face-to-face contact is blocked for some reasons, for instance geographical distance, it is replaced by telephone contact, suggesting a potential compensation among children who live further away from parents. Cohabitors may have a non-traditional vision of the family and of family roles; nevertheless, they stay in touch with their family of origin changing the way to maintain contact. In conclusion, our results do not lead to the indication of deteriorated contacts mother-child for cohabitors in contemporary Italy.

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 Presented in Session 33. Quality of intergenerational ties