Aging improves parent, child relationships, research shows
Some parents and adult children argue and never agree on even the tiniest of things. While relationships between parents and children clearly change over time, there is no such thing as a “reversal.” For one thing, unless specific powers of. In my experience with psychotherapy with the elderly client in family settings, I've A third factor is the adult child's ability to understand the parent's life journey. disappointments, Dina gradually began to look at their relationship differently.
These two investigations side with other studies that use self-report measures Bartholomew and Horowitz ; Hazan and Shaver and focus on the generalized internal working model of attachment or the attachment style of the caregiving adult children Carpenter ; Crispi et al.
These studies illustrate only some of the ways in which the construct of attachment can be made useful in the search for determinants of parent care in adult children. Indeed, recently, research on parent care in middle-aged adult children emerged in the classical attachment research tradition. This research focuses on the coherence of the internal representation of attachment rooted in the lifelong relationship with the parents and makes use of the Adult Attachment Interview AAI Mahieu ; Pearson et al.
In still other studies of parent care, attachment is conceptualized as the strength of the current secure attachment to the parents mother or fatherand measured with the Adult Attachment Scale introduced by Cicirelli,; Carpenter ; Datta et al.
This variety of approaches might help to find out what are the most fruitful conceptualizations and the most adequate measures of attachment, and whose attachment to whom is the most relevant in adult child-elderly parent caregiving research. Given the continuous character of the parent—child relationship, one should expect research on parent care primarily to focus on the attachment patterns autonomous, dismissing, and preoccupied in adult daughters and sons.
Mahieu found several connections between attachment patterns based on the AAI procedure and aspects of parent care in a sample of 45 adult child caregivers. One of these findings is that autonomous adult children experience less parental incomprehension in the current care relationship than the insecurely attached caregivers, especially, the preoccupied.
The latter experience more stress and burden in the caregiving relationship. Based on the analysis of a cluster of significant care characteristics three types of parent care related to the three AAI-attachment styles, could be distinguished.
Filial maturity is another concept now attracting some attention of parent care researchers Cicirelli ; Marcoen The correlation of attachment with filial autonomy actually a tendency to distancing was negative.
I would expect strong relations between scores on this measure and scores on the parental consideration subscale and measures of parental maturity Mahieu ; Mahieu and Marcoen The further elaboration of the concepts of filial and parental maturity in a developmental perspective Braeckmans and Marcoen ; Mahieu and Marcoenand the development of in-depth interview procedures to detect the care attitudes subsistent in the comprehensive definitions of these concepts e.
Context variables From the perspective of both, the support providing adult children or younger adult generation and the help receiving elderly parents or older generationdifferent context variables can be considered in the search for determinants of the nature and the amount of parent care care for the aged generation. These factors, situated in the microsystem of the extended family and the macrosystem of the society, may be studied separately or in combination, depending on whether the aim of the study is the characterization of the level of solidarity in a nation or the understanding of individuals involved in parent care.
The same contextual variable e. The context variable most prominently linked to parent care is residential distance Schwarz and Trommsdorff or geographical proximity of a child parent Daatland and Lowenstein In the cross-national study of Daatland and Lowensteinhaving children close-by—just as the functional status of the aged parent in most countries—predict family help received by the elderly parents, in Norway, England, Germany, Spain, and Israel.
Nearby living adult children are more likely to provide support to aging parents. The influence of geographic distance on the intergenerational exchange appears also in the cross-national study of Quadrello et al.
It is a strong negative predictor of face-to-face and spoken contacts between grandparents and their 10—15 years old grandchildren, and a positive predictor of the use of new written communication technologies, especially, e-mail.
This kind of results confirms an important research imperative. Before considering the impact of more personal characteristics of adult children and elderly parents on parent caregiving love, comprehension, empathy, and obligation the mere geographical distance between the elderly and their offspring must be taken into account.
Aging and Family Life: A Decade Review
Characteristics of the societal system are included especially in economic and sociological investigations that focus on patterns of intergenerational transfers and its transformations over time in a particular country or region. By comparing the impact of caregiver and care-receiver characteristics, and the above-mentioned more proximal context variables on elder care in a number of European countries that differ from each other in several identifiable respects, societal factors are also taken into account in research in which the caregiver—care-receiver relationship is the focus of the research.
There may be relevant demographic, institutional-policy and cultural differences between the countries Kohli that at least to a certain degree account for variations in parent and elder care. Some of these context variables enhance or diminish the probability that parent care in one or another form, or intergenerational transfers in general, will take place or change over the years. Comparable differences are implied in the cross-national study of Attias-Donfut et al.
Taking into account the contextual factors in the search of psychological determinants of parent care, by comparing patterns of connections between variables in different countries, requires the use of structural equivalent self-report measures that typically assess psychological constructs that came into being in particular cultural and linguistic contexts Van de Vijver and Leung In the cross-national cross-cultural study of Daatland and Lowensteinfactor analysis was used to test the structural equivalence of the measures of the different dimensions of intergenerational solidarity in the five European countries.
The growing internationalization of sociological and psychological research in a multicultural Europe will strengthen the need for excellent equivalent measures. Final considerations The papers in this special issue throw light on different aspects of the core phenomenon of intergenerational relationships in middle adulthood and old age: Interacting societal, contextual, and personal factors play a role in making adult children more or less concerned about, and willing to take care of their aging parents.
Several of these factors are studied in the present investigations. It clearly emerges that parent care and family care, in general, in which elderly persons are the care-recipients, are changing in changing societies. However, there are apparent indications that parent care remains in new forms resulting from intergenerational negotiations between autonomous individuals striving for enduring independency in the context of continuing intrafamilial involvement.
In many European countries, new family-welfare state balances are established. Modern welfare states seem not to erode family solidarity and intergenerational exchange. There is no support for the so-called crowding-out hypothesis Daatland and Lowenstein The plasticity of the parent care phenomenon is rooted in complex patterns of societal and personal factors impinging on autonomous adult daughters and sons facing the specific needs of their just as autonomous fathers and mothers.
These factors create a broad space for the emergence and development of societal and psychological processes inducing parent care, and elderly care in general. Through providing several accessible medical and social services, and whatever other legal and practical measures, welfare states create frameworks and opportunities for the reorganization and reorientation of intergenerational exchange of support between adult children and their elderly parents.
Among the different psychological disciplines that may contribute to the elucidation of parent care in adult children today developmental psychology is probably the most promising. It provides the conceptual tools of the attachment theory to put parent care and its socio-emotional origins in a life-span perspective.
The majority of the adult children are inclined to help or support their parents in one or another way when they need help. However, not all adult children are—in the position, or, able to be—concerned for their parents or taking care of them. At the extreme some adults do not display concern and care for their parents at all. The reasons for this absolute lack of apprehension or effective support are as worthy to be studied as the reasons why some adults, mainly daughters, engage themselves in complete self-denying and self-destructive parent care.
The psychological determinants of the nature and amount of parent care, and the gains and losses it generates satisfaction and burdenagainst the background of the spirit of the age and the changing socio-demographic characteristics of the society, remain to be a central topic of gerontological research today. Genet Soc Gen Psychol Monogr. Attachment styles among young adults: J Pers Soc Psychol.
Intergenerational solidarity in aging families: Attachment bonds between adult daughters and their older mothers: A measure of filial anxiety regarding anticipated care of elderly parents. Attachment theory in old age: Pillemer K, McCartney K, editors.
Parent care: the core component of intergenerational relationships in middle and late adulthood
Parent—child relations throughout life. J Fam Psychol, ;9: Adult attachment, working models, and relationship quality in dating couples. Sibling relationships Sibling and parent—child relationships have been found to be interdependent with each other. There is also evidence that attributes of sibling relationships influence how intergenerational relationships are maintained. Marriage and widowhood Family events and circumstances outside the marriage itself influence the quality of marital relationships.
For instance, Bookwala found that marriages were adversely affected when daughters provided care to older parents, whereas marriages of similarly situated sons tended to adapt to the added demands of caregiving. The effects of family stressors on well-being appear to be multiplicative with respect to spousal and intergenerational relations.
Widowhood is a transition closely followed by the reconfiguration and adaptation of family roles and functions. Research has shown that widowed persons are less likely than their married counterparts to have a confidant but more likely to receive support from children, friends, and relatives Ha, Roles outside the family changed as well following the loss of a spouse.
Widows were more likely than married individuals to pursue volunteer roles that tended to protect them against depressive symptoms and enhance feelings of self-efficacy Li, The transition to widowhood is often considered among the most stressful transitions in later life.
Perhaps because it can often be anticipated, characteristics of the prewidowed period have been found to influence the well-being of the surviving spouse. Many aspects of spousal loss and adjustment are different for surviving husbands and wives—both prior to and subsequent to widowhood. Adjustment to widowhood also followed different paths on the basis of gender.
Men who were instrumentally dependent on their wives and women who were emotionally dependent on their husbands both showed better adjustment to widowhood when they learned they could manage on their own Carr, This finding suggests that successful coping with the loss of a spouse may involve altering traditional gender orientations. Reciprocity and altruism between generations Research has generally found strong interdependence in flows of time and money support between parents and their adult children.
Most studies examining intergenerational resource transfers have found evidence for motivations based on altruism and reciprocity. An altruism perspective posits that each generation provides to the other on the basis of need: Parents provide money to adult children with the fewest economic resources, and adult children provide social support and care to parents who are in the worst health.
A reciprocity perspective posits that money transfers from parents to children are later reciprocated by the beneficiaries, who give freely of their time to visit or provide assistance to their aging parents. This evidence suggests that reciprocal exchanges between generations stretch over a large part of the family life cycle. In the United States, this pattern—known as time-for-money exchange—has held up well across several investigations, although parents in African American and Hispanic families tend to compensate for their lower-than-average financial resources by providing in-kind support e.
The empirical literature has increasingly taken into account the often-unacknowledged fact that parents differentiate among their adult children when providing help and support.
In addition, structural features of relationships have also emerged as determinants of which child parents favor or rely on. Intergenerational relations and the political economy Relationships in aging families have been found to be dependent on the larger social contexts in which they are embedded.
The most common narrative in this literature derives from political economy theories that characterize nations by the degree to which care responsibilities are allocated among state, market, and family—a spectrum bracketed at one extreme by social democratic states with strong public welfare provisions and at the other extreme by residualist states with relatively weak public safety nets.
A similar political economy paradigm has been used to explain the direction of financial transfers between generations. Families in developing countries also engage in time-for-money exchanges; however, the direction of resource flows differs from that found in developed countries.
Cultural values emphasizing filial duty are in line with the absence of public resources, as families survive through mutual exchange across generations Sun, However, in more traditional societies that experience abject poverty, adult children used their scarce resources for the betterment of their children rather than their elderly parents Aboderin, Rapid social and economic change in developing countries has opened up lines of inquiry about whether the traditional family safety net is secure for older persons in such regions.
Declining family size and rates of intergenerational coresidence are among the major concerns. The elasticity of filial norms has been noted in traditional but rapidly developing and developed nations. Similar declines in multigenerational coresidence occurred over a much longer period in the United States, largely due to increased economic opportunities for young adults and reduced control of parents over the lives of their adult children Ruggles, Patterns and Outcomes of Caregiving in Aging Families In this section, we discuss trends in caregiving in aging families that include adult children caring for their elderly parents, spouses caring for each other, and grandparents caring for their grandchildren in custodial and supplemental capacities.
We focus on social characteristics that have been found to differentiate levels of involvement in caregiving activities and that lead to differential outcomes in caregivers. Although an obvious implication of aging is that mature adults tend to become recipients of care over time, older adults are also key providers of family care. Literature of the past decade has attempted to consolidate and distill what has been learned from the many studies focusing on caregiving.
Caregivers increasingly face the dilemma of balancing their labor-force participation against their caregiving duties, a stressor that tends to affect women more than men.
Aging and Family Life: A Decade Review
Characteristics of care recipients also make a difference in the caregiving experience. Caregiving is increasingly viewed as a team effort, with multiple family and nonfamily members trading off and coordinating their care efforts.
Although the structure of caregiving is typically hierarchical, with a main care provider who coordinates the efforts of subordinate caregivers, research has indicated a good degree of turnover in the composition of caregiver networks, as well as in primary providers, over time.
However, the number of care providers per recipient has declined in recent years. Positive consequences of caregiving have received attention in the literature.
Taking a life-span approach to the topic of family elder care, Roberto and Jarrott noted that the emerging literature on caregiver growth demonstrates a clear, positive impact of caregiving, including improvements in problem-solving abilities, increased self-understanding, and a growing sense of competence. Spouses as caregivers Although spouses are second to adult children in their prevalence as primary caregivers, this statistic is somewhat misleading because only half of frail older adults are married with a spouse available to care for them.
The literature commonly compares spouse caregivers with other types of family caregivers, most often adult children. Among spousal caregivers, gender differences have been found with regard to the impact of caregiving on their daily lives. The smaller gender differential for spousal caregivers was attributed to the relatively strong responsibility that spouses feel for their partners.
The experience of spousal caregiving also has roots in the pre-caregiving period of marriages. Caregivers who reported lower quality marital relationships were also more likely to end their caregiving activities than were those who reported higher quality marital relationships Duchareme et al. Spousal caregiving appears to be sensitive to national context, as well. Caregiving grandparents face challenges that predate their caregiving activities.
Although most research has tended to focus on the difficult precursors and stresses of custodial grandparenting, attention also has also been devoted to studying the resources that may offset negative outcomes.
Custodial grandparenting is far more common in less developed regions of the world than it is in the United States. Many older women in poor African nations are left to care for their grandchildren with few government benefits and largely devoid of kinship support systems Oppong, Grandparents as supplemental caregivers Caring for grandchildren on a supplemental basis is quite common around the world. Higher rates of female labor-force participation in more liberal states ostensibly increased the demand for occasional services of grandparents, whereas the greater availability of low-cost day care suppressed the demand for full-time care of grandparents.
Evidence is mixed concerning whether providing part-time care to grandchildren is stressful to grandparents. Thus, grandparents serve as key resources to their grandchildren in accordance with emergent family needs. Supplemental care provided by grandparents has been found to have positive effects on intergenerational relationships. For example, grandchildren who received early care from grandparents tended to have closer relations with them in adulthood than do grandchildren who did not receive such care Brown, Thus, exchange motives may coexist with altruism in explaining why grandparents devote themselves to the well-being of their grandchildren.
Discussion In this review, we summarized and critically evaluated the empirical literature that has shaped and advanced the study of aging families over the past decade.
Mostly relying on research articles published in top-tier family and gerontological journals, we organized our discussion into four thematic areas that cut across different relationships in older families. We revisit these themes in our discussion, first focusing on major substantive issues and gaps in coverage, then reviewing progress and limitations in the overarching theoretical and methodological orientations on which the substantive literature rests, and finally forecasting where we think the leading edge of family scholarship in this area may be heading.
Substantive Issues Our review suggests that research over the past decade has gone far toward advancing our understanding of variation and change in aging families based on emotional complexity, structural diversity, role interdependence, and patterned caregiving.
We comment on each of these areas in turn. Although originally viewed as pathological, ambivalence in more contemporary interpretations is viewed as part of the human condition, of the give-and-take between autonomy and dependence and the tension between concern and disappointment.
Whether the discomfiting nature of mixed feelings has positive or negative implications for the subject or object of ambivalence has only begun to be investigated. Many questions remain to be answered. For example, to what degree does ambivalence depend on the family role position of the reporting individual? Are adult children less able to hold conflicting feelings than their parents?
And to what degree can the concept of ambivalence be used to describe older sibling and marital relations? We also discussed literature on complex family structures due to divorce and remarriage, and the resultant families that include half-siblings, stepsiblings, former and new spouses, stepchildren, and stepparents.
Blind spots certainly exist in the literature, for example, the almost complete inattention to gay and lesbian couples in later life. Extended families of four or more generations and truncated childless families have to some degree become normalized in U. Although Sun and Matthews estimated that one in three Americans are currently part of a four-generation family, there have been few studies of great-grandparents and their intergenerational relationships.
In contrast, research has begun to pay greater attention to in-law and step relationships, filling gaps in knowledge by moving attention beyond the boundaries of the nuclear family.
In general, however, family structures have altered in ways that research on aging families has not kept pace.
We note that the impact of social changes on family life—because they typically first manifest early in the family life cycle—do not show up in late-life families until years later. Such changes as increasing ethnic diversity; the proliferation of disrupted, step, and blended families; and the greater legitimacy and in some states, legality of same-sex unions, historically lag in the older population.
However, there are several reasons it is prudent for scholars to examine social change in aging families before they are in full bloom. First, older adults are interconnected and interdependent with family members whose social milieux have changed in line with contemporary patterns. Older parents may maintain relationships with divorced, remarried, never married, and cohabiting adult children that are quite different from those they maintain with stably married children.
Interdependence among family actors, family relationships, and formal state systems was a central theme in our review that included consideration of conjoint family roles, intergenerational exchange, and variation in the political economy of nations. Research on aging families has only begun to use person-centered approaches that treat individuals as embedded within a web of family affiliations and responsibilities. For example, middle-aged persons often occupy several family roles simultaneously e.
In addition, cross-institutional demands need greater attention to determine whether work stress that adult children experience is detrimental to the quality of their intergenerational relationships and impedes their ability to provide care to aging parents.
Cross-national studies have demonstrated that support exchanges between generations are sensitive to the political economy of the nation-state. Comparative research among nations in the developed world has been critical for identifying state—family trade-offs in how macrolevel government structures influence microlevel family behaviors. Much work remains to be done in rapidly developing countries, where nascent pension and health-care programs for older persons are likely to reduce intergenerational coresidence and support.
Government policies toward dependents in the population may ease the demands imposed on family resources for needed care and support but also may crowd in family members as supplemental providers. Specifying the correct causal factors at the macrolevel represents a great challenge in this realm of research.
- Caregiver and care-receiver variables
- Declining Parents
Explaining how context matters needs to be of greater concern, lest conclusions remain at the level of description. The large volume of literature on caregiving within and across generations has achieved some degree of consolidation by virtue of several meta-analyses and a generally more inclusive and balanced rendering of the caregiving process. The accumulation of evidence suggests that caregivers are embedded in a networklike structure that adjusts in composition over time in response to the changing resources and constraints of providers and the needs of recipients.
Systemic and dynamic approaches to caregiving are most informative because they come closest to representing caregiving as it is actually experienced in families. A notable shift in the literature has been that greater attention is paid to older adults as care providers to family members and not simply as passive recipients of filial resources.
Research on older individuals as caregivers for their grandchildren and as economic providers to their adult children has proliferated. The literature on inter- and intragenerational caregiving has also begun to question long-standing assumptions about caregiver burden in aging families by better balancing the psychic rewards of enacting a valued family role against the dire consequences documented in much of the literature. Theoretical Issues Although much of the literature on aging families continues to rely on established theories of the middle range, modifications to those theories and the emergence of new scholarly perspectives have energized the field.
In particular, the ambivalence perspective continues to provide an important reminder of the emotional complexities of intergenerational family relationships in later life, whereas the intergenerational solidarity paradigm that has guided research in this area for some decades has expanded to include conflict, thus making it more compatible with ambivalence theory.
Attempts at bridging the two paradigms may provide a theoretical synthesis that will strengthen the rigor and explanatory purview of both. More theoretical work needs to be done to conceptually distinguish perceived by the subject and ascribed by the researcher forms of ambivalence, as well their unique origins and consequences. Exchange theory has provided a useful lens for understanding sequential transfers of time, money, and emotion between generations. As aging families increasingly include relationships that are nonbiological and mixtures of biological, legal, and social affiliations, reciprocity and altruism as social forces may weaken or change shape in response to new family structures and intergenerational patterns of resource allocation.
What this means for the viability of family support systems for dependent elders remains an important topic for the future. Although we are struck by the relative absence of macrotheorizing apart from the implicit use of modernization theorywe conclude that it is potentially healthier for the field to let many middle-level theories bloom than have a single perspective dominate in a hegemonic fashion.
However, feminist, class, and race theories—and their intersection—have achieved little traction as central organizing paradigms in research on aging families published in main family and gerontology journals. Noticeable by their relative absence from the literature are scholarly research articles in top-tier journals that focus on race and ethnicity in later life.
Using the EBSCO search engine we found only three articles published in JMF between and that contained the terms age or aging and race, ethnicity, or ethnic in their title or abstract. Although the majority of quantitative studies include race and ethnicity as control variables, consideration of intergenerational, spousal, and sibling dynamics in aging families of color has been tangential at best.
Methodological Issues The development and ready accessibility of advanced statistical techniques have expanded the quantitative toolbox available to researchers analyzing longitudinal, hierarchical, and otherwise complex data sets. The analysis of trajectories of family relationships over long periods of time has benefited from the application of growth-curve modeling. Research studying how aging families vary across various social, political, and filial ecologies—where individuals are nested in larger aggregates—has increasingly made use of multilevel modeling techniques.
Application of structural equation and hierarchical techniques have become increasingly common, thus providing answers to questions related to change and context that were previously not answerable and resulting in better specified models and more trustworthy inferences. Harmonization of measures between the HRS in the United States and similar studies of older populations in Europe, Latin America, and Asia has expanded opportunities for comparative research on aging families on an unprecedented scale.
Together the data sets are valuable public assets; they cover a wide array of topics from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, are nationally representative, typically oversample minority ethnic groups, and are easy to access through data-archiving services. Although their scope and accessibility have resulted in a remarkable surge of theoretically informed and empirically rigorous research on aging families, we add a note of caution.
The danger remains that these large data-collection enterprises have a homogenizing influence on scholarship by narrowing the spectrum of constructs available for analysis. Thus, one may ask whether at times the availability of particular measures in these well-used studies drives emergent research questions rather than the other way around. It is also our impression that quantitative analyses of large data sets may have crowded out fine-grained analyses and in-depth qualitative investigations from the leading family journals.
Thick descriptions of microfamily environments, narrative analyses, and ethnographic approaches are needed to provide deeper understandings of social and behavioral processes in aging families that quantitative studies can sometimes only infer from correlational data. Qualitative research may best discover the cultural frames that the elderly and their relatives use to negotiate the gap between expectations and behaviors regarding help and support, tensions between dependence and autonomy, residential decisions, and resource allocation strategies in aging families.
Our review suggests that research on aging families still tends toward segregation based on family position and the relationship under investigation.