Theses defended

Da(s) Crise(s) à Adaptação: Famílias com filhos adultos emergentes em contexto de instabilidade macroeconómica

Gabriela Jorge Fonseca

Public Defence date
October 22, 2021
Doctoral Programme
Doutoramento Interuniversitário em Psicologia Clínica, Psicologia da Família e Intervenção Familiar
Ana Paula Relvas e Carla Crespo
Introduction: The beginning of the 21st century has been deeply marked by macroeconomic crises. Over the last years, Portuguese families have been living in an unstable macroeconomic context in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis. Approximately one decade later, a new crisis involving complex socioeconomic features begins due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergence of adverse macroeconomic circumstances creates psychosocial challenges for individuals and families, including detrimental effects for mental health and family well-being. Amidst today's macroeconomic contexts, families with emerging adult children (i.e., 18-30 years) face unique challenges, as macroeconomic instability may threaten the achievement of children's financial independence, a central developmental task defining this life period. Stemming from a systemic approach, paying attention to the interfaces between contextual and developmental dimensions, and drawing upon family stress and resilience theories, the present research sought to develop an in-depth view of the experiences of families with emerging adult children in the context of macroeconomic instability. The following main aims were defined: I. to identify the macroeconomic demands that these families have been facing over the last years, and its psychosocial impact; II. to understand how they adapt to these demands, mapping the family processes that foster resilience in this context of adversity.

Methodology: This research adopted a mixed methodological design, involving the collection of quantitative data in 2016/2017, through self-report questionnaires; and of qualitative data in 2018/2019, through joint family interviews. Data were collected from multiple family members (fathers, mothers and emerging adult children), with a total of 424 families (1220 individuals) participating in the quantitative component and of 14 families (48 individuals) participating in the qualitative component. Overall, this research includes 11 studies: six preliminary studies, four studies conducted with quantitative data and one study conducted with qualitative data. The preliminary work encompassed two literature reviews (Studies 1 and 2), three studies of validation of measures that integrated the quantitative assessment protocol (Studies 3, 4 and 5), and one additional study that allowed the identification of best practices in the assessment of macroeconomic demands, through an inspection of missingness (Study 6). Adopting different units of analysis, Studies 7, 8, 9, 10 e 11 aimed to provide answers to the main goals of the present work.

Results: The analysis and integration of the studies' results showed that, in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, Portuguese families with emerging adult children have been continuously facing macroeconomic demands - objective, in the form of economic hardship (e.g., income loss), mainly during early 2010s; and subjective, in the form of economic strain, worries and fears (e.g., will we be able to maintain/find a job?), mainly in late 2010s - which resulted in psychological costs for family members and for the family as a whole. The impact of objective macroeconomic demands was found to be more pronounced for specific groups (e.g., parental subsystem, families with a lower socioeconomic status), while economic strain appeared to involve transversal consequences within and between families. Three groups of family processes for adaptation to macroeconomic demands were identified: modus operandi and financial readjustments, family resources, and family meanings and belief systems. Parental support was found to be one of the most significant resources to deal with uncertainty during macroeconomic hard times.

Conclusions: Despite its limitations (e.g., cross-sectional design, focus on two-parent families), this research contributed to advance the scientific knowledge about the interfaces between families and their macroeconomic contexts, providing a first look into the experiences of Portuguese families with emerging adult children in macroeconomic hard times. Findings from our studies have implications for future research, which takes significant momentum in the wake of the socioeconomic ramifications of the pandemic, as well as practical implications at the clinical and macrosocial levels. The map of economic and psychosocial costs and adaptative responses to macroeconomic demands, resulting from this research, can inform the development of programs and public policies aimed at reducing the negative impacts of macroeconomic crises in the lives of individuals, families and communities.

Keywords: macroeconomic crisis, family adaptation, families with emerging adult children, mixed methodology, family research