Couples With Children More Likely To Have Conflicts With In-Laws Interview with:
Mirkka Danielsbacka PhD, D.Soc.Sci

Senior researcher
University of Turku What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Relations between family generations are widely studied in disciplines such as family sociology and demography. However, relations between in-laws are often neglected in family studies of contemporary societies. Especially conflicts have been surprisingly little investigated. We were especially interested in how parenthood is associated with relations to in-laws in a contemporary Western society.

Using nationally representative survey data from Finland with over 1,200 respondents, we studied conflicts that spouses reported having with their own parents and their in-laws. Overall, Finns more often reported having had any conflict with their own parents than with their in-laws. Compared to childless couples, couples with children were as likely to report conflicts with their own parents. However, couples with children were more likely to report conflicts with their parents-in-law. Our results took into account how frequently family members were in contact with each other and how emotionally close they felt, as well as other sociodemographic factors. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Conflicts are an integral part of close family relations. Relations with in-laws appear to become more similar to relations with own biological kin when there is a grandchild. When there is a third generation uniting kin lineages, in-laws may become emotionally closer and help each other more, the so-called “kinship premium”. This study showed that also conflicts are more likely, what we call a “kinship penalty”. Finally, we show that grandchild care is a likely source of conflicts, in particular between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: It would be important to study how intergenerational relations change over time when a grandchild is born, using longitudinal data. Our results were only cross-sectional (all couples were interviewed and compared at the same time). While our results did suggest that there is clear difference between parents and childless couples in their in-law relations, one should study how the conflict proneness with in-laws changes when a child arrives and also what the conflicts are about. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Close family relations include significant amounts of help and support but also tensions and conflicts. We need detailed human family data included all extended family members in order to understand how kin relations, spousal dynamics and childbearing intertwine. Thank you for your contribution to the community.

Citation: Danielsbacka, M., Tanskanen, A. & Rotkirch, A. (2017) The “kinship penalty”: Parenthood and in-law conflict in contemporary Finland. Evolutionary Psychological Science. DOI 10.1007/s40806-017-0114-8

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