Psychological Medicine

Brief Communication

Empty nest or revolving door? A prospective study of women's quality of life in midlife during the phase of children leaving and re-entering the home

L.  DENNERSTEIN  c1 a1, E.  DUDLEY  a1 and J.  GUTHRIE  a1
a1 From the Office for Gender and Health, Department of Psychiatry, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


Background. This study documents changes in household composition and effects on women's quality of life of children leaving and returning home.

Methods. A 9-year annual prospective study of a population-based sample of mid-aged Australian-born women who were premenopausal at baseline (N = 438) was conducted. Documentation was made of household composition and change, well-being, bothersome symptoms, daily hassles, feelings for partner and frequency of sexual activities.

Results. There was an increase in the number of women living alone, and a reduction in number of households in which there were children or parents. Each year >25% of women reported a change in household composition. In the first year after the last child departed (N = 155), there was an improvement in women's positive mood and total well-being and a reduction in negative mood and the number of daily hassles. This improvement in mood was confined to those women who at baseline were not worried about children leaving home. In the first year after children return home there was a trend towards reduced frequency of sexual activities but no mood changes.

Conclusions. For the majority of women, the departure of the last child from the household leads to positive changes in women's mood state and a reduced number of daily hassles. Return of offspring may have an adverse effect on sexual relating of the parents.

c1 Address for correspondence: Professor Lorraine Dennerstein, Office for Gender and Health, Department of Psychiatry, University of Melbourne, Royal Melbourne Hospital, 6th Floor, Charles Connibere Building, Parkville, VIC 3050, Australia.