in Adulthood and Later Years
Steven H. Zarit
David J. Eggebeen
Pennsylvania State University
OVER THE LIFESPAN
Parent–child relationships are a lifespan issue. Rather than ceasing when children are launched from the family, these relationships endure with often complex patterns of interaction, support, and exchange that wax and wane around key transitions in the adult years. Indeed, family issues such as intergenerational conflict, mutual assistance, and inheritance have a timeless feel to them. Several trends in contemporary society, however, have made these issues different and more complex. Changes in mortality and morbidity have resulted in more people who live longer, often with disabilities. Altered patterns of marriage and divorce have also meant that more individuals enter old age without the support of a spouse. Finally, lower rates of savings and accumulation of wealth are likely to affect the economic prospects of younger generations and cause a decline in confidence that extrafamilial institutions will help.
In this chapter, we review the most recent research on the nature of relationships between older parents and their adult children. Reflecting the basic premises of a life course perspective, we assume that ties between older parents and their adult children are a two-way street, that is, not only do children provide support and care to parents, but parents continue to support their children long after those children have been launched into adulthood. We examine the circumstances under which adult children provide assistance to older parents with disabilities and, conversely, those under which older parents continue giving extensive help to their adult children.
During recent years, a primary focus of research in gerontology has been on family caregiving and, specifically, the assistance provided to an older person with disabilities. The need for, and provision of, care to older individuals by other family members is a momentous event in later life. With ever-increasing costs of medical and long-term care of older people, assistance by family members is often essential to the security and the well-being of an older parent. Unfortunately, for