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Moving Back to "Mamma"?

Re-thinking Sweden as having a "weak-family system"
Copyright: megaflopp

Past research has claimed that countries like England, Sweden and the United States have weak family ties and they are more centred around the individual. This would mean that in times of need, families are not seen as a strong safety net and people try to cope with the situation on their own. In a recent study by Marco Albertini, Michael Gähler and Juho Härkönen, they chose to look specifically at Sweden to determine if family dissolution increased the likelihood of divorced/separated individuals moving back in to their parents’ home (intergenerational (re)co-residence).

The low levels of intergenerational co-residence in Sweden are seen as characteristics of an individualistic culture and as a result of the universalistic welfare state, which has made it possible to reduce the need to rely on one’s family. The authors argue that despite the low prevalence of co-residence with parents, family solidarity is activated in times of need and in the situation of divorce or separation, this form of housing support is considered as a solution.

Using data from Sweden in Time – Activities and Relations (STAR), which is a compilation of Swedish administrative register data, they were able to analyse 670,000 individuals over the time period of 2007-2012.

In their analysis, the authors found that overall, co-residence between parents and adult children – who are parents themselves - is rare (1.5% of the population). However, 5.3% of separated men and 3.7% of separated women co-reside with their parents, compared to 1.3% of those in a union. They also found that men are more likely to reside with their parents immediately after the separation (3.6 percentage points more likely for men and 2.1 for women) and also still four years following (2 percentage points for men and 0.8 for women).

If at least one parent of a divorced or separated individual lives in the same municipality, then the chances of intergenerational co-residence also increases. But, the authors found that this is based more on the proximity of one’s mother: Adult Swedes favour living with their mother rather than their father when they are experiencing times of need.

This study provides evidence to support the argument that the family’s role as a safety net is strong in Sweden, even though previous research classifies Sweden as having weak family systems. Despite preferring residential autonomy, families are willing to step up and adopt this non-normative support strategy of co-residence. Thus, while the prevalence of adult children going back to their parent after divorce is low, the findings are significant since they show that: (i) the relative risk increases by a factor of 3-4; (ii) the effect lasts over four years after divorce and involves adults with family obligations; (iii) the family solidarity in times of need is strong also in a generous welfare state that generally allows families to choose their preferred living arrangements. Therefore, it may be time to start to rethink how Sweden’s family ties are viewed.

Author(s) of the original publication: 
Writer: 
Emily Lines