Female-centered family configurations
In: Widmer, E., Jallinoja, R. (Eds.): Beyond the Nuclear Family: Families in a Configurational Perspectives, 179–206
Population, family, and society 9
Bern [et al.], Peter Lang (2008)
In this paper we argue that the strength of intergenerational relationships in Italy is one important element in understanding low fertility in this country, but that the role that family plays in a couple’s fertility decisions needs to be understood in light of the wider context of normative influences on life-course transitions. While choices about childbearing rest with the couple, the background against which such choices are made is provided by the set of actual relationships in which the couple is embedded before they form a union, at the time in which they get engaged, and after, despite the residential independence of the new nuclear family.
The empirical data are 74 semi-structured interviews with women between ages 23-42 who were resident in Cagliari, the main urban center of Sardinia, Italy. In addition, we use the field-notes produced by several months of ethnographic observation of social practices related to intergenerational relations, gender relations, and parental roles. Our findings show, among other aspects, that considerations of work and family are developed in accordance with expectations and responsibilities related to care and family. The extent to which care is gendered depends on the extent to which a young woman’s family configuration includes a substantial proportion of female maternal kin. There two ways in which such gendered strong ties are relevant: a) strong ties among kin-related women represent the principal resource for material and psychological support in daily and occasional circumstances; b) strong ties among female maternal kin are the major vehicles for the socialization of young women and therefore have a great influence on their attitudes towards family and work. As a consequence, women isolated from maternal kin are more likely to eschew the double presence model to welcome the first serious marriage prospect, thereby abandoning their educational pattern too early to have reasonable expectations of employment and devoting themselves to family and children. The isolation of a nuclear family may also hinder family formation for young women who have sole responsibility for ageing and dependent parents, particularly when affective ties are strong. When the social environment with respect to specific life course and family circumstances is mostly constituted by the husband’s kin, married women are likely to have more children than other women.
Keywords: Italy, family, fertility