The Legacy of Leaving Home: Long-Term Effects of Coresidence on Parent - Child Relationships

By Leopold, Thomas | Journal of Marriage and Family, June 2012 | Go to article overview

The Legacy of Leaving Home: Long-Term Effects of Coresidence on Parent - Child Relationships


Leopold, Thomas, Journal of Marriage and Family


This study investigated how early, "on-time," and late home leavers differed in their relations to parents in later life. A life course perspective suggested different pathways by which the time spent in the parental home may set the stage for intergenerational solidarity in aging families. Using fixed-effects models with data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (N = 14, 739 parent - child dyads), the author assessed the effects of previous coresidence on intergenerational proximity, contact frequency, and support exchange more than 5 years after children had left home. The results indicated that, compared with siblings who moved out "on time," late home leavers lived closer to their aging parents, maintained more frequent contact, and were more likely to be providers as well as receivers of intergenerational support. Overall, this evidence paints a positive picture of extended coresidence, revealing its potential to promote intergenerational solidarity across the life course.

Key Words: cross-national research, families in middle and later life, intergenerational transfers, parent - child relations, reciprocity, transition to adulthood.

The literature provides a fairly comprehensive understanding of parent - child coresidence as well as of the timing and pathways out of the parental home. Far less is known, however, about the long-term consequences of this transition. Most notably, there is an absence of research on the consequences of coresidence for parent - child relations in later life, although previous experiences are likely to set the stage for subsequent solidarity between the generations. For example, off-schedule departures that violate cultural norms around the "right" time to leave home may adversely affect the quality of parent - child relations. But the time young adults spend in the parental home may also strengthen intergenerational solidarity in later life. For instance, extended coresidence may promote later awareness of each other's needs or constitute an obligation for adult children to reciprocate in the long term.

In view of these connections, it appears worthwhile to include information on transitions out of the parental home into the analysis of intergenerational relations in aging families. In this study, I examined how early, "ontime," and late leavers differed with respect to intergenerational proximity, contact frequency, and support exchange in later life. A life course perspective was particularly well suited to guide this research: One of its basic tenets is that previous transitions are linked to outcomes in later life. Therefore, this perspective provided a lens through which to view how the experience of intergenerational coresidence and leaving home was carried over into late parent - child relationships. A life course perspective also emphasizes the importance of the sociohistorical and family context in shaping the meanings attached to life transitions. In keeping with this principle, my research design included within-culture, within-cohort, and within-family controls. I used pooled data from two waves (2004-2005 and 2006-2007) of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE; see http://share-dev.mpisoc.mpg.de/), comprising respondents from 14 European countries and Israel.

Background

A large body of literature suggests that an adverse family climate promotes early home leaving (e.g., Goldscheider & Goldscheider, 1999). In this sense, any influence of the time spent in the parental home on later parent - child relations may be attributable to pure selection effects; that is, problematic parent - child relations are carried over into later life, producing a spurious correlation between early departures and lower levels of intergenerational solidarity in aging families. Whereas early leavers are undoubtedly selected on the quality of relations with the parents, it appears unlikely that the reverse is true for late home leaving.

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