Rözer, Jesper. (2016). Family and Personal Networks: How a Partner and Children Affect Social Relationships. ICS dissertation series.

summary: At the end of my PhD, I started a long-lasting relationship; my girlfriend and I started living together, talked about getting married, and had initial conversations about having children. These transitions shaped my life drastically and altered my social relationships. It was a challenge to find a balance between spending time with my girlfriend, with my family and friends, with her family and friends, on work, and relaxing. I also witnessed friends, some of whom recently got married and had children, with similar struggles. We often talked about the consequences of these transitions for our personal relationships and, crucially, whether we were growing apart slightly.

My friends and I, and likely many of our peers, have many questions about the effects of a romantic partner and children on our social lives. However, at the start of my PhD, I learned that existing scientific research could provide only limited answers. This was best formulated in two recent literature reviews, which concluded that we know relatively little about how life course transitions, such as forming a romantic relationship and having children, shape personal networks (Ueno & Adams, 2006; Wrzus, Hänel, Wagner, & Neyer, 2013). An important reason for this lack of knowledge is that researchers are often more interested in the consequences of personal networks than why these networks change. In addition, methodological issues, such as a lack of large-scale longitudinal network data in combination with life course data, temper the advancement of our knowledge about how personal networks change after the start of a romantic relationship and after becoming a parent.

This limited knowledge about how a partner and children shape personal networks represents an important research gap because personal contacts are of great importance in an individual’s life. For example, personal contacts offer companionship, provide a feeling of belonging, are an important source of physical and emotional support, and are of great importance for critical aspects of people’s lives such as their health, happiness, well-being, and identity (e.g., Lin, 2001; Berkman, Glass, Brisette, & Seeman 2000; Thoits, 2010; Brashears, 2010; Van der Horst & Coffé, 2012). However, not all social networks are equally capable of offering these positive assets; some networks may provide more support, such as support with childrearing, finding a job, and one’s emotional problems, than others. Hence, some people have more resourceful networks and, thus, more ‘social capital’ than others (Bourdieu, 1986; Coleman, 1988; Flap & Volker, 2004). A partner and child might shape people’s personal contacts and, as a result, affect their social capital. For example, following the formation of a romantic relationship, men may disproportionally spend time with their partner, withdraw from their friends and miss the support of their friends (Kalmijn, 2003). Furthermore, women may stop working after parenthood and, thus, have fewer social contacts who have access to knowledge about jobs when they are looking for a job or to re-enter the labour market (Moore, 1990). Thus, because different social relationships and network configurations offer different amounts and forms of support, it is crucial to understand how these social relationships and configurations emerge.

The aim of this dissertation is to improve our understanding of the effects of having a romantic partner and children on personal networks. The personal network consists of social contacts with whom people have reached a personal level of interaction. For instance, people can discuss personal matters with these contacts, or these individuals can help with odd jobs in and around the house. These contacts include people’s closest friends, family members, neighbours, and acquaintances (Van der Poel, 1993; Tilburg, 1998; Marin & Hampton, 2007). Thus, rather than regarding all people who an individual knows as personal contacts, we regard only those social contacts with whom an individual has a close relationship with and has reached a personal level of interaction with. The above considerations lead to the following research question:

How do a partner and children affect personal networks?

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