Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Proximity and Contacts between Older Parents and Their Children: A European Comparison

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Proximity and Contacts between Older Parents and Their Children: A European Comparison

Article excerpt

Using data from the 2004 Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, this article continues and extends recent cross-national research on proximity and contacts of older parents to their children. In addition to a brief description of the geography of families in 10 continental European countries, determinants of intergenerational proximity and contacts are examined. Even when microlevel factors are controlled for, the Mediterranean peoples continue to exhibit closer family relations than their northern counterparts. I also find noteworthy systematic differences in the effects of some explanatory variables between traditionally weak- and strong-family countries. When looking at the contemporary European picture as a whole, I find no indication for a decline of intergenerational relations.

Key Words: cross-national research, families in middle and later life, parent-child relations.

Often driven by concerns about the decline of the family as a social institution (e.g., Popenoe, 1993), a considerable amount of research dealing with proximity and contacts between older parents and their children has been conducted in the United States (e.g., Greenwell & Bengtson, 1997; Lawton, Silverstein, & Bengtson, 1994; Wolf, 1994) and, more recently, in a number of European countries (see, e.g., Lauterbach, 1998, for Germany; Shelton & Grundy, 2000, for Great Britain; Tomassini, Wolf, & Rosina, 2003, for Italy). Drawing on data from the 2004 Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, this article continues and extends recent cross-national research on the proximity of parents to their adult children and intergenerational contacts (e.g., Glaser & Tomassini, 2000; Kohli, Künemund, & Lüdicke, 2005; Tomassini, Kalogirou, et al., 2004).

Against the background of rapid demographic change, the primary purpose of my analysis is to provide a snapshot of continental Europe's diversity right after the turn to the 21 st century, both in terms of the current state of family relations at older ages and with regard to future prospects of intergenerational support. So far, studies on the basis of microdata are constrained to derive comparable information on parent-child relations from different national data sources, which not only limited the set of variables available for analysis but also limited the sample of countries to be considered. My analysis, though, is based on a single set of comparable microdata for 10 countries, ranging from those in Scandinavia to those in the Mediterranean region. These data provide rich information on a broad set of relevant individual-level variables for both parents and children. Moreover, many previous studies either dealt with proximity (e.g., Glaser & Tomassini, 2000; Lin & Rogerson, 1995) or dealt with contacts (e.g., Grundy & Shelton, 2001; Tomassini, Kalogirou, et al., 2004), whereas my analysis considers both of these dimensions of intergenerational solidarity (see also Greenwell & Bengtson, 1997; Lawton et al., 1994).

Because the dividing line between younger and older parents is fuzzy, I include the gray area of individuals in their late middle-age years (50+) in the analysis (see also Börsch-Supan et al., 2005; Marmot, Banks, Blundell, Lessof, & Nazroo, 2003). Given the substantial variation in children's age at leaving home across Europe (e.g., Aassve, Billari, Mazzuco, & Ongaro, 2002; Billari, Philipov, & Baizan, 2001), in some countries, a notable share of parents in my sample will not yet have reached the empty nest phase of the family life cycle, whereas in other countries parents' offspring will often have progressed considerably further in the transition to adulthood. The analysis is restricted to that parent-child pair in a family that is characterized by the shortest geographic distance or the highest frequency of any kind of contact, respectively.

BACKGROUND

In the next quarter century, it is likely that, in western societies, the proportion of elders with at least one child alive will be higher than that in any preceding period, despite a substantial decline in fertility, as a result of decreases in mortality (cf. …

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