Children's strains, parents' pains? How adult children's union dissolution influences older parents' health




Intergenerational Relationships, Divorce, Administrative Data, Demographic Events, Fixed-effects Models, Frailty, Gender, Health Inequalities, Life Course, Linked Lives, Marriage, Netherlands, Panel Data, Union Dissolution


Objective: This study aimed at investigating gender differences in the longitudinal associations between adult children’s union dissolution and older parents’ health.

Background: The family life course perspective and theories of social stress suggest that adult children's union dissolution may affect a parent's health. However, the extent to which parental health changes before and after a child’s separation is still barely investigated.

Method: Data from four waves of the Dutch component of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) were linked to panel register data from the System of Social-statistical Datasets (SSD). We applied a fixed-effects approach to 4,985 parent-child dyads nested in 2,511 parents to assess the influence of children’s union dissolution on three different measures of parental health (depression, grip strength, and frailty).

Results: Results indicated that parents' health conditions worsen as one of their children gets separated. In addition, we found anticipation effects of children's union dissolution on parental health. Among parents, no clear gender differences emerged. The separation of a son exerts a stronger burden on parental health than that of a daughter.

Conclusion: This research contributes new findings, expanding the small existing body of literature to both physical and mental health outcomes. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of focusing on both the period before and after a child's separation. Gender-related differences help to understand the pathways to poor health at older ages.




How to Cite

Uccheddu, D., & van Gaalen, R. (2022). Children’s strains, parents’ pains? How adult children’s union dissolution influences older parents’ health. Journal of Family Research, 34(2), 757–781.