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LIfBi Lectures: pairfam panel focuses on family relationships

For 15 years, the pairfam study has been offering a unique potential to analyze how relationships of couples and generations develop in different stages of their lives. Prof. Dr. Sabine Walper—Vice Director of the German Youth Institute, co-initiator, and co-PI (Principal Investigator) of pairfam—introduced the design and the various possibilities of the panel during her LIfBi Lecture. In her presentation, she also gave an account of the recent additional survey in response to the corona pandemic, which—like the additional survey in the National Education Panel Study (NEPS)—assesses the burden on families and changes in the family climate.

When pairfam (“Panel Analysis of Intimate Relationships and Family Dynamics”) was launched in 2008 with around 12,000 participants (“anchor respondents”), the multidisciplinary panel closed a gap in the German research landscape: Although there were already many smaller longitudinal studies at the time, there was no large-scale longitudinal study to comprehensively survey and research partnership and family living conditions, intergenerational relationships, child development, and parenthood. In addition to the anchor persons from four cohorts born between 1971 and 2003, data on their reference persons—that is, partners, parents, and children of the interviewees, are also collected in the annual survey waves. There are plans for a total of 14 survey waves up to 2021 with the three starting cohorts and one follow-up cohort (2018/19).

Types of engagement and educational aspiration

By way of example, Sabine Walper presented to the audience of her online lecture four publications in which data from pairfam were used, thus showcasing the thematically diverse research potential of the DFG-funded panel. One of these studies on the relationship between parent-child relationships and the educational paths of children has a significant overlap with one of LIfBi’s main research foci. Specifically, using the data of 469 children aged between 8 and 16 years, the question was examined of how the emotional closeness of children to their parents influences their access to academic education, besides parents’ academic orientation. In this case, the scientists concluded that the academic orientation of parents only contributes to better school performance if the children have a high level of attachment to their parents. “A strong bond and familiarity is a key factor for the educational success of children,” said Walper.

Families in times of corona

Just like the network of the National Education Panel Study (NEPS), the pairfam team has taken the current corona crisis as an opportunity to conduct an additional survey, whose preliminary results Walper presented in her lecture. Thus, 2,670 anchor respondents were interviewed about changes in the family climate from the second quarter of 2020. The respondents described both positive and negative effects of living in times of corona. A slight majority of respondents believe that the crisis has positive aspects for family life, for example, a strengthening of the inter-family feeling of unity. However, the additional survey also made it clear that the additional stress of child care due to the closing of schools and daycare centers has been shouldered mainly by one parent only, in the majority of cases the mothers. It is mostly fathers who report on joint care arrangements. Homeschooling is also sometimes viewed negatively, especially by the children themselves. In this regard, the majority of children report that learning at home works worse than at school—a perspective that their parents surprisingly do not share to the same extent. “The exciting question is how long the effects of the corona crisis are going to continue,” Walper concluded in her presentation with a view to future surveys and the analyses planned by the pairfam study and by NEPS (


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