Helping between Parents and Young Adult Offspring: The Role of Parental Marital Quality, Divorce, and Remarriage

Article excerpt

The transition to adulthood is particularly problematic for today's young adults. Persistent underemployment, low beginning salaries, rising housing costs, high divorce rates, and high levels of nonmarital childbearing have increased the amount and duration of parental support needed by young adults. Given these circumstances, it is not surprising that parental support of adult offspring is at its highest while offspring are in their twenties (Cooney & Uhlenberg, 1992).

At a time when young adults are particularly in need of assistance, parents' marriages are also going through changes that may put the needed help in jeopardy. The high rate of parental divorce and the conflict that often precedes divorce, the economic deprivation that accompanies single parenthood, and the conflicting loyalties associated with some parental remarriages have the potential for putting ameliorative parental assistance at risk. The purpose of this paper is to explore the extent to which parental marital quality, divorce, and remarriage influence (a) young adults' feelings that they can approach parents for assistance with problems, (b) the amount of assistance parents provide to offspring, and (c) the amount of assistance offspring provide to parents. To investigate these issues, we draw on a 12-year longitudinal study that includes interviews with a national sample of parents and their young adult offspring.


Given the potential salience of parental marital quality and family structure for exchanges between parents and their adult offspring, surprisingly little is known about this link. Until recently, the study of adult intergenerational exchange has focused almost exclusively on factors that influence offsprings' care of the elderly (see Mancini & Blieszner, 1989, for a review). Only recently has interest shifted to general patterns of exchange at all ages (e.g., Eggebeen & Hogan, 1990; Hogan, Eggebeen, & Clogg, 1993; Rossi & Rossi, 1990). Even within this broadened focus, the emphasis has been on the marital status of offspring as a predictor of receiving help from parents (Eggebeen & Hogan, 1990; Hogan et al., 1993). Only a few studies have dealt with the marital status of parents as a factor influencing helping between parents and children. Furthermore, these studies are all cross-sectional, and only one obtained information from more than one generation (Rossi & Rossi, 1990).

Several studies show that single parents exchange less assistance with offspring than do married parents. In a three-generational study, Rossi and Rossi (1990, Tables 9.6, 9.18, 9.19) found that children reported giving more assistance to, and receiving less assistance from, single parents than from married parents, although this was more true for widowed than for divorced parents. Two studies based on the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) obtained comparable results. Hoyert (1991) found that elderly single mothers reported giving less and receiving more assistance from offspring than did currently married mothers. Similarly, Cooney and Uhlenberg (1992) found that offspring in the NSFH reported receiving more support from married than from single parents. However, these studies did not distinguish between divorced and widowed or never-married parents, or between remarried parents and those in first marriages.

A few studies have focused on parental divorce and remarriage--the topic of the present article. In a study based on a national sample, Umberson (1992) found that divorced parents reported less support from adult children than did married parents. Similarly, Cooney and Uhlenberg (1990) found that divorced fathers in the NSFH were less likely to name a child as a source of assistance than were married fathers. Also using NSFH data, White (1992) found that divorced mothers and fathers reported giving less social, instrumental, and financial help to offspring than did continuously married mothers. …


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