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This study explored gender differences in the degree to which parent-child dyads and family system variables are associated with relationship quality in late adolescence and early adulthood. It was hypothesized that the quality of mother-child and father-child relationships, as well as family adaptability and family cohesion, would be positively correlated with the quality of intimate relationships in late adolescence and young adulthood. Further, it was hypothesized that correlations would vary according to gender. The sample was composed of 50 males and 48 females between the ages of 18 and 24. The results indicated that the relationship of family factors to the intimate relationships of young adults was similar for males and females. Specifically, a positive relationship with mother and greater adaptability in the family system during adolescence were related to more positive intimate relationships in young adulthood.

Individuals typically focus on the development of intimate relationships during late adolescence and early adulthood (Aylmer, 1989; Erikson, 1963, 1968). Successful resolution of the issue of intimacy (specifically, the crisis of intimacy versus isolation) enables the young adult to maintain committed, enduring intimate relationships (Erikson, 1968; Orlofsky, 1993).

Although definitions of intimacy vary, three themes have been identified: interdependence, self-disclosure, and affection (Penman & Fehr, 1987). Many of the patterns that young adults bring into their relationships with significant others are developed in the relationships they have within the family of origin (Aylmer, 1989). Although some of the familial qualities that are thought to have implications for young adult intimate relationships may be similar for males and females, research also suggests gender differences.

According to Chodorow (1989), strong identification between mothers and daughters facilitates an orientation of connectedness for females, yet the need for boys to differentiate from the maternal attachment figure encourages an orientation of separateness for males. This has implications for their relationships with the opposite sex later on. Additional research has explored the similarities (e.g., Sandor & Rosenthal, 1986) and differences (e.g., Mellor, 1989) of men and women in intimate relationships.

The family is clearly an important developmental context. The relationship between parent and child has been correlated with general well-being of the child (Barnett, Kibria, Baruch, & Pleck, 1991; Wenck, Hardesty, Morgan, & Blair, 1994), self-esteem (Barber & Thomas, 1986; Buri, Kirchner, & Walsh, 1987), conflict resolution (Kalter, 1987), and relationship satisfaction (Booth, Brinkerhoff, & White, 1984). In particular, the father-child relationship has been found to be instrumental in the development of self-esteem (LeCroy, 1988), gender identity, individuation (Kalter, 1987), and heterosexual trust (Southworth & Schwartz, 1987). Some studies suggest that fathers are less involved with their children than are mothers (LeCroy, 1988; Youniss & Ketterlinus, 1987) and are more physically affectionate with daughters than with sons (Barber & Thomas, 1986). Although LeCroy (1988) found no gender differences in the levels of parent-child emotional involvement, Barber and Thomas (1986) found more companionate relati onships in the father-son and mother-daughter dyads than in cross-gender dyads. Further, in a study by Wenck, Hardesty, Morgan, and Blair (1994), emotional involvement of both parents was related to the well-being of sons and daughters, behavioral involvement of both parents was related to the well-being of sons, and behavioral involvement of fathers was more strongly related to daughters' wellbeing than was behavioral involvement of mothers.

Attention also has been directed toward the role of family climate in late adolescent and young adult intimacy. Family patterns and functioning have been associated with social competence (Abelson & Saayman, 1991), including anxiety and interactional traits (Beal & Hochnian, 1991; Lauer & Lauer, 1991). In addition, family functioning has been studied in relation to self-esteem (Cooper, Holamn, & Braithwaite, 1983), conflict resolution, family strengths, and family satisfaction (Olson et al., 1989). Some studies found no gender differences in perceived family climate (Dancy & Handal, 1981) or perceived autonomy and intimacy in the family of origin (Manley, Searight, Skitka, & Russo, 1993). However, Cooper and Grotevant (1987) found the exploration of friendship and dating identity to be related to family separateness for females and family connectedness for males.

These findings indicate that further exploration of familial factors in late adolescent and young adult intimacy is warranted. Thus, the present study explored gender differences in the degree to which parent-child dyads and family system variables are associated with relationship quality in late adolescence and early adulthood. Two hypotheses were tested: (1) the quality of mother-child and father-child relationships, as well as family adaptability and family cohesion, will be positively correlated with the quality of intimate relationships in late adolescence and young adulthood; (2) correlations will vary according to gender.


Participants and Procedure

Participants were recruited from a human development class at a southwestern university in the fall and spring semesters. The total enrollment for the two semesters was 495 students, and 421 (85%) completed the questionnaires. The sample was limited to students who were 18 to 24 years of age and whose parents were married or divorced. Because the sample was predominantly female, 48 were randomly selected; 50 males participated.

The mean age of the 98 participants was 20.3 years. The ethnic composition was as follows: 84 (86%) white, 6 (6%) African American, 5 (5%) Native American, and 3 (3%) other ethnicities. Eighty-nine (91%) were single, 5 (5%) were married, and 4(4%) were engaged. The mean length of time they had been in a close relationship was 30.3 months, with a range of 1 to 54 months.

The breakdown for parental marital status was 63 (64%) intact and 35 (36%) divorced. The mean age at time of parental divorce was 10.1 years, with a range of 1 to 22 years. For the 35 participants whose parents had divorced, 19 (54%) fathers and 15 (43%) mothers had remarried; the mean length of parental remarriage was 7 years, with a range of 1 to 14 years. Fifty-one (52%) participants reported family income as high to moderately high, 39 (40%) as moderate, and 8 (8%) as moderately low to low.


Participants completed a self-report questionnaire consisting of established instruments, some of which were modified for this study. Demographic information also was obtained.

Interpersonal relationship quality. Relationship quality was assessed using a modified version of the Interpersonal Relationship Scale (Garthoeffner, Henry, & Robinson, 1993; Guerney, 1977). This version contains 49 of the original 52 items (responses are made on a 5-point Likert-type scale, ranging from 1 = strongly agree to 5 = strongly disagree). There are six subscales: Trust, Sell-disclosure, Genuineness, Empathy, Comfort, and Communication (Garthoeffner et al., 1993). Internal consistency (Cronbach's alpha) was .95 in the present study. Test-retest reliability of the original scale has previously been established (.92; see Rappaport, 1976).

Relationships with parents. Participants completed the Parent-Child Relationship Survey (Fine, Moreland, & Schwebel, 1983), which consists of 24 items assessing perceptions of the relationship with each parent in the areas of closeness, trust, clarity of parental role, anger, communication, respect, and parental influence. High internal consistency has been reported: .94 for relationship with mother and .97 for relationship with father (Fine et al., 1983). In the present study, Cronbach's alpha was .95 for relationship with mother and .96 for relationship with father.

Family adaptability and cohesion. The 20-item Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scales III (Olson, Sprenide, & Russell, 1979) was used to assess family cohesion and adaptability (responses are made on a 5-point Likert-type scale, ranging from 1 = almost never to 5 = almost always). Adaptability refers to the ability of the family to change in response to stress, and cohesion is the degree of bonding in the family (Olson et al., 1989). Participants were asked to consider the levels of family cohesion and adaptability experienced during their high school years. In the present study, internal consistency (Cronbach's alpha) was .92 for family cohesion and .78 for family adaptability, slightly higher than previous reports (.77 for cohesion and .62 for adaptability).


The hypotheses were tested using hierarchical multiple regression. Gender was dummy coded (1 = male, 0 = female), and interaction terms were developed for each of the continuous predictors.

Table 1 presents the mean scores and standard deviations for the continuous variables, and Table 2 shows the bivariate correlations. None of the correlations between predictor variables exceeded .75, suggesting that multicollinearity was not a problem. A tolerance test (with .10 as the low level of tolerance) was used in the regression model as additional assurance of the absence of multicollinearity. The failure of any of the predictor variables to exceed the tolerance limit indicated that they were relatively independent (Cohen & Cohen, 1983). Finally, multicollinearity can be especially problematic in regression equations that contain interactions; thus, to minimize the threat of multicollinearity, the predictor variables were centered (Aiken & West, 1991).

Step one of the hierarchical regression analysis included relationship quality regressed on gender. Relationship with father and relationship with mother were entered in step two; family adaptability and family cohesion were entered in step three; and the interactions of gender with each predictor variable were entered in step four. This equation explained 16% of the variance in relationship quality of young adults (F = 1.80, p [greater than] .05). The gender by family adaptability interaction was statistically significant (b = 2.38, p [less than] .05).

The results of the first regression analysis were used to refine the model. Only the significant interaction of gender and family adaptability was included in step four of the refined model (see Table 3). The equation explained 15% of the variance in relationship quality (F = 2.72,p [less than] .05). Relationship with mother, family adaptability, and gender by family adaptability were significantly related to relationship quality. The findings for relationship with mother and family adaptability indicate that higher levels of relationship quality are associated with a more positive mother-child relationship and with higher levels of family adaptability. Post hoc analysis was conducted on the gender by family adaptability variable. Although the simple slopes for the two groups did differ from zero, analysis of the difference between the two groups when the predictor variables were fixed at one standard deviation above the mean (Aiken & West, 1991; S. G. West, personal communication, June 28, 1994) indicated t hat the groups did not differ. Thus, the results suggest that the level of interpersonal relationship quality is not a function of the interaction between gender and family adaptability. Indeed, this analysis failed to reveal any gender differences in the relationship between familial factors and relationship quality in young adults.


The results of this study indicate that the relationship of family factors to the intimate relationships of young adults is similar for males and females. Specifically, a positive relationship with mother and greater adaptability in the family system during adolescence are related to more positive intimate relationships in young adulthood. These findings provide support for the salience of dyadic relationships in the family of origin, as well as family functioning, in explaining the quality of young adults' close interpersonal relations. However, the model accounted for only 15% of the variance in relationship quality, indicating that additional factors need to be considered.

Mother-child relationships characterized by closeness, trust, communication, respect, and parental involvement were associated with young adults' intimate relationships having similar characteristics (i.e., trust, self-disclosure, genuineness, empathy, comfort, and communication). However, relationship with father was not a significant variable in the model, which is inconsistent with research that has linked the father-child relationship to self-esteem (LeCroy, 1988), gender identity, individuation (Kalter, 1987), and heterosexual trust (South-worth & Schwartz, 1987). However, studies have indicated that fathers are less involved than mothers in the lives of their children (LeCroy, 1988; Youniss & Ketterlinus, 1987), suggesting that the salience of the father-child relationship might be greater if fathers were more involved. The lower mean score for relationship with father than for relationship with mother found here supports this conclusion.

Although the hypothesized correlation between family cohesion and relationship quality was not supported, family adaptability was positively related to relationship quality in young adulthood. Adaptability encompasses "family power (assertiveness, control, discipline), negotiation styles, role relationships and relationship rules" (Olson et al., 1989, p. 48). By providing appropriate structure, limits, and guidance, the family helps the adolescent achieve self-control. If the family is able to resolve conflict in a positive manner, the adolescent learns what is perhaps the most essential skill in relating positively to others. Finally, the family provides models for relationship roles and interactions, further preparing the adolescent for close interpersonal relationships.


The findings of this study suggest that a positive mother-child relationship and family adaptability provide young adults with important tools for developing successful interpersonal relationships. Although the literature indicates that the father-child relationship may be as salient as the mother-child relationship, this was not found here. In addition, family cohesion was not related to intimate relationships in young adulthood. Finally, the analysis failed to confirm gender differences in the association of familial factors with the quality of intimate relationships of young adults.

These findings underscore the need for further exploration of the intimate relationships of young adults. Questions that should be investigated include the following: When fathers are more involved in the lives of their children, does the father-child relationship become more salient to young adults' close relationships? Are males and females more similar than different in their relationship experiences, or are there particular factors that mediate gender differences in intimate relationships? As our understanding of the similarities and differences between men and women increases, so does our ability to help young adults successfully initiate and maintain intimate relationships.

This research was supported by the College of Human Environmental Sciences, Oklahoma State University. The author would like to thank Carolyn Henry for her comments on a previous draft of this paper, and Jane Garthoeffner for her assistance in collecting, coding, and entering the data.

Linda C. Robinson, Department of Family Relations and Child Development, Oklahoma State University, 333 HES, Stillwater, Oklahoma 74078. Electronic mail may be sent to


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 Mean Scores and Standard Deviations (N = 98)
 M SD Scale Sample
 Range Range
Relationship quality 199.09 3.00 49-245 120-244
Relationship with father 123.13 3.20 24-168 31-166
Relationship with mother 137.90 2.45 24-168 45-168
Family adaptability 24.20 0.67 10-50 10-43
Family cohesion 35.34 0.88 10-50 14-50
 Correlation Matrix
IRQ 1.00
RF .15 1.00
RM .21 [*] .20 [*] 1.00
FA .10 .13 .07 1.00
FC .10 .43 [**] .52 [**] .45 [**] 1.00
Gender .13 -.02 .00 .03 -.01 1.00
IRQ = Interpersonal Relationship Quality
RF = Relationship with Father
RM = Relationship with Mother
FA = Family Adaptability
FC = Family Cohesion
(*.)p [less than] .05
(**.)p [less than] .0001.
 Hierarchical Multiple Regression of Gender,
 Family Characteristics and Relationship Quality
Predictor Variable [a] b B t [R.sup.2]
Step 1 .02
 Gender -8.41 -.14 -1.45
Step 2 .06
 Relationship with mother .36 .30 2.51 [*]
 Relationship with father .20 .21 1.90
Step 3 .02
 Family adaptability 2.19 .49 2.79 [**]
 Family cohesion -.77 -.22 -1.56
Step 4 .07
 Gender by family adaptability -2.45 -.43 -2.65 [**]
(a.)b, B, and t are reported for the final step.
[R.sup.2] is reported for each step.
b = unstandardized beta;
B = standardized beta.
Multiple R = .39;
total [R.sup.2] = .15;
F = 2.72, p [less than] .05.
(*.)p [less than] .05,
(**.)p [less than] .01
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Author:Robinson, Linda C.
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2000

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