Long Term Effects of Childhood Family Structure on Interpersonal Trust

Katya Ivanova, University of Amsterdam
Matthijs Kalmijn, University of Amsterdam

Interpersonal trust, or individuals’ beliefs about how reliable others are, is an important predictor of a range of individual outcomes such as life satisfaction, educational performance, and health. Here, we build upon the limited number of studies which have examined how interpersonal trust is affected by parental life-course transitions such as divorce (e.g., Franklin, Janoff-Bulman, & Roberts, 1990; King 2002; Viitanen, 2011). Our contribution is a significant step forward, as our unique data (OKiN or Parents and Children in the Netherlands; Kalmijn, Ivanova, van Gaalen, de Leeuw, van Houdt, & van Spijker, 2017) allow us to capture much better the diversity which modern family complexity entails such as living continuously with a single parent, parental union dissolution and re-partnering (without an explicit focus on marital unions but rather, also examining the formation and breakdown of cohabitations), and living with a stepparent. Our data allow us to test three competing ideas about the link between family structure and adult trust: (a) The role of nonintact families (e.g., experiencing father absence), (b) The role of instability (e.g., divorce, re-partnering, unmarried cohabitation), and (c) Direct transmission (dis)trust (e.g., spurious effects due to the intergenerational transmission of trust). Our preliminary findings are showing a clear link between the experience of living in a non-traditional family and offspring’s lower levels of interpersonal trust in adulthood. These results hold even after controlling for important individual-level predictors of trust such as income and educational level.

Presented in Session 91: Linked Lives and the Lifecourse