Academic journal article Demographic Research

Distance to Elderly Parents: Analyses of Swedish Register Data

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Distance to Elderly Parents: Analyses of Swedish Register Data

Article excerpt


In the present study, features of and trends in child-parent proximity in Sweden are analyzed using comprehensive register data. The results show that 85% of older parents have adult children within a radius of 50 km, of which 10% live 'just around the corner'; corresponding figures for adult children are 72% and 5%, respectively. The study gives no indication of increasing intergenerational distances. Results from logistic regressions show that adult children who are well educated, female, older, born in Sweden, who are not parents, who live in densely populated areas, and have siblings are less likely to stay in the same region as their parents.

1. Introduction

Spatial proximity between older parents and adult children is a topic of great concern in contemporary society, as it affects crucial issues such as mutual assistance between family members, the strength of kinship ties, migration patterns, and everyday mobility. One vital issue of the social agenda concerns the impact of child-parent proximity on the care and support of the elderly. If the state fails to care for the growing number of elderly people, assistance from relatives may well be the only solution, and the proximity between adult children and their parents will become increasingly important in the care for the elderly. However, because many older people have no children and since many adult children live too far away to provide daily assistance to parents, it may be difficult to reintroduce a more family-based system of care.

Naturally, adult children may also benefit from the care and support provided by parents, and the proximity to mothers and fathers can be a crucial resource for young families. Moreover, social contacts between the generations may be essential to the well-being of both parents and children, even if family support and care are provided by the state. Locational nearness to relatives can be an important asset for those who lack, for instance, economic or educational assets; it may constitute social capital that may compensate for a scarcity of other resources.

However, close family ties can also be a burden that restrains individual careers and plans for both generations (Umberson 1992), and nearness is not always preferred. Women are often engaged in caring for their partner and parents, more so than their male counterparts (Joseph and Hallman 1998). Thus, if the burden of caring for elderly relatives is shifted from the state to adult children, women will be forced to make an even greater sacrifice (Szebehely 2005). Whether nearness is a burden or an asset, large variations in child-parent proximity between different groups may affect socioeconomic gaps in society between the poor and the rich, between people living in urban and rural areas, men and women, immigrants and non-immigrants, as well as between people who live alone and people who have a rich social network.

The literature on residential proximity between adult children and ageing parents includes topics such as the effects of divorce in the younger generation (Spitze et al. 1994) and in the older generation (Aquilino 1994), normative obligations and emotional intimacy (Rossi and Rossi 1990), economic transfer between generations (Tomassini et al. 2003), and the availability of kin (Wolf 1994) etc. Furthermore, the effects of demographic changes, such as rapid decline in fertility (Jiang 1995) and increasing number of shared life-years have been examined (Shanas 1980, Schoeni 1998). These aspects of child-parent proximity have been investigated in a variety of European and American contexts, as well as in cross-national comparisons (e.g., Hank 2005). The present study examines child-parent proximity in Sweden, a country known for its large distances between parents and children, fewer intergenerational contacts (Hank 2005), and dependence on institutionalized care and welfare systems (Svallfors 2004). While previous studies on child-parent proximity have mainly been based on surveys (e. …

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