matrilineal advantage: the likelihood that children will have a closer relationship to their maternal grandparents — and especially to their maternal grandmother — than to their paternal grandparents.
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But researchers exploring family affiliations point out that a so-called “matrilineal advantage” does exist. That is, daughters generally have closer ties to their own parents than to their in-laws, which leads to warmer relationships between their children and the maternal grandparents.
“The mother-daughter dyads engage in more frequent phone contact, more emotional support and advice — more than mothers do with sons or fathers with daughters,” said Karen Fingerman, who teaches human development and family sciences at the University of Texas, Austin, and has published studies on this topic.
One possible explanation is that women still shoulder more of what researchers call “kinkeeping” — arranging for calls and visits, sharing family news, planning holiday gatherings.
“Women are more active in maintaining those relationships,” said Jan Mutchler, a sociologist and gerontologist at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “When you have mothers and daughters, then you have two women working on it.”
Research and theory regarding grandparent/grandchild ties consistently suggest the matrilineal lineage is favored over the patrilineal lineage (Chan & Elder, 2000; Matthews & Sprey, 1985; Uhlenberg & Hammill, 1998). Explanations for this preference are varied but tend to focus on the idea that women are facilitators of intergenerational ties (Walker, Thompson, & Morgan, 1987). Women traditionally have stronger ties to their family of origin than do men; bonds between aging mothers and adult daughters are closer than are ties involving fathers or sons (Fingerman, 2000; Rossi & Rossi, 1990). As a result, grandchildren presumably have stronger ties to their maternal grandmothers than to their paternal grandparents (Chan & Elder, 2000; Hagestad, 1985; Johnson, 1983).
Thus, matrilineal advantage in grandchild–grandparent relations is likely to emerge in a family system when at least one parent—usually the mother—has closer relations with the maternal rather than the paternal side. Mothers are more likely to provide support and have closer relations with maternal grandparents for a number of reasons. First, several studies have found that obligations to blood relations have greater relevance than obligations to affinal kin (Powers and Kivett 1992; Rossi and Rossi 1990). Thus, given constraints on their time and energy, mothers might be predisposed to provide more aid and have closer relations with their side of the family than their husband’s side. Second, mothers are likely to have a longer history of close relations with their own parents, especially their mother—the maternal grandmother (Hagestad 1986). Such a history is likely to be reflected in the present as a warmer relationship between mothers and the maternal side and may well facilitate exchanges of support between these generations (Rossi and Rossi 1990; Whitbeck et al. 1993). Finally, mothers may have a greater likelihood of supporting their own side of the family simply because they expect parents-in-law to rely on their own daughters (if available) for support and assistance. The presence of such an expectation is possible given that daughters have primary responsibility for caregiving and other support activities in the United States (Lye 1996; Spitze and Logan 1990).
See related Trovelog posts: kinkeeping <>