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Through Thick and Thin, But Mostly Thin

In times of trouble, Americans are less likely to
turn to their
families.

When individual Americans need help, where do they go? Unlike folks in Italy, Germany, Hungary, and England, they don't turn to their families.

More than half of American adults do not give or receive assistance from their parents in the form of money, time, advice, or emotional support on any regular basis. Even when faced with dire financial need because of family illness or disability, Americans stand on their own.

When adults do get help from their parents, says Pennsylvania sociologist Dennis Hogan, Ph.D., it's usually only because they have young children. Grandparents might get support from their children but only when they're in poor health.

Partly, it's the American ethic of individualism. But distance plays a role.

The farther apart families live from each other, the less likely it is that they'll help each other out. It's especially true when it comes to grandparents giving support to their adult children and grandchildren, says Hogan. Physical distance is less of a barrier for adult children, who are more likely to help their parents out. They take to their automobiles or to airplanes.

If physical proximity counts, so does emotional closeness. All forms of kin support are much more likely among families that stay closely in touch with each other.

So much for family values.