Purdue University Graduate School

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Intergenerational transmission of interpersonal relationship quality in adulthood: Patterns and consequences on well-being within families

posted on 2022-07-26, 15:30 authored by Yifei HouYifei Hou


Interpersonal relationships play a central role in well-being in adulthood. Built upon the life course and within-family perspectives, this dissertation investigates the generational origin of interpersonal relationships via socialization (i.e., intergenerational transmission of interpersonal relationship quality) and its consequences on well-being across generations in later-life families. 

Despite a large body of literature on parents’ socialization of children leading to similar social development generationally, this literature has been criticized for lacking attention to socialization effects after childhood and issues of heterogeneity and selectivity. To advance knowledge in these aspects, drawing from theories of socialization and the life course, I examined the transmission of older mothers’ relationship quality with their mothers and fathers to their relationship quality with their own adult children in midlife in Chapter 2. I further studied how intergenerational transmission varies by relational dimension (closeness, tension) and adult children’s gender (sons, daughters). The evidence for intergenerational transmission of parent-child relationship quality found in this study complements family socialization literature by revealing the cumulative socialization influences in later-life families. The differential patterns of intergenerational transmission highlight social learning as a selective process based on the positivity or negativity of the relational dimension and the moderating role of social structural position (i.e., gender) in shaping the patterns of intergenerational transmission.

Built upon the core idea of intergenerational transmission, the aim of Chapter 3 is to broaden the study of social relationships and well-being from the family network lens by examining how intergenerational transmission of mother-child and friendship quality facilitates older generation’s interpersonal relationship quality to affect offspring’s psychological well-being. Although the implication of interpersonal relationship quality for well-being has been well-documented, prior literature has largely focused on the effect of one’s own relationship quality on psychological well-being. To advance knowledge on this issue, I examined the effects of older mothers transmitting the quality of their relationships with their own mothers and friends to adult children’s relationships with their friends and with the mothers themselves on adult children’s depressive symptoms. I further investigated how adult children’s gender shaped the ways in which mothers’ relationship quality affected adult children’s well-being. My findings support intergenerational transmission of interpersonal relationship quality as a mechanism by which mothers’ interpersonal relationship quality affects adult children’s well-being. The differential effect by adult children’s gender highlights the critical role gender plays in shaping the consequences of intergenerational transmission of interpersonal relationship quality on offspring’s well-being. 

In summary, this dissertation applies the life course and within-family perspectives to studying intergenerational transmission of interpersonal relationship quality as a way by which the lives of family members are linked in aging families and the consequences of this interconnectedness for well-being across generations. Furthermore, it highlights the important role social structural position (i.e., gender) plays in shaping patterns and consequences of intergenerational transmission. 


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Sociology

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

J. Jill Suitor

Additional Committee Member 2

Shawn G. Bauldry

Additional Committee Member 3

Danielle Kane

Additional Committee Member 4

Megan M. Gilligan

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