A report in the September issue of Advances in Life Course Research finds that major events in a child's life such as divorce, widowhood and remarriage affects their level of care provided to their parents later in life. Divorce predicted an adult child would be less involved with day-to-day assistance later in life for an aging parent. A divorce may have happened more than 30 years ago, but the changes it caused can have a long-lasting effect for the child into adulthood.
Data was collected between 1987 and 1994, from 2,087 parents aged 50 and older who reported on their 7,019 adult children in the National Survey of Family and Households.
Analysis of this data showed that it was not the divorce itself that directly affects support but often relocation by a parent. Divorce and remarriage can affect the level of support between the parent and child and this disruption can then carry into later behavior. Such events had less of an impact if they occurred earlier in the child's life but this could mean that children of different ages in the same family could be affected differently.
One interesting finding was that parents were only half as likely to get support from a step child. This is important for those who may anticipate support in old age from their non-biological children. As these life transitions become more common, society will need to deal with the implications for elder care.
Changes in the American family have significant implications for future aging. Divorce, for example, is on the rise, and some researchers suggest that fewer children and more stepchildren may change the availability of family support in the future for people at older ages.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1960, only 1.6 percent of older men and 1.5 percent of women age 65 and older were divorced; but by 2003, 7 percent of older men and 8.6 percent of older women were divorced and had not remarried. The trend may be continuing. In 2003, among people in their early 60s, 12.2 percent of men and 15.9 percent of women were divorced.