Ageing and Society

Research Article

The implications of today's family structures for support giving to older parents

MARIA C. STUIFBERGENa1 c1, JOHANNES J. M. VAN DELDENa1 and PEARL A. DYKSTRAa2

a1 Julius Centre for Health Sciences and Primary Care, University Medical Centre, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

a2 Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute, The Hague, The Netherlands.

ABSTRACT

There is considerable debate about the effects of today's family structures on support arrangements for older people. Using representative data from The Netherlands, the study reported in this paper investigates which socio-demographic characteristics of adult children and their elderly parents, and which motivations of the adult children, correlate with children giving practical and social support to their parents. The findings indicate that the strongest socio-demographic correlates of a higher likelihood of giving support were: having few siblings, having a widowed parent without a new partner and, for practical support, a short geographical distance between the parent's and child's homes. Single mothers were more likely to receive support than mothers with partners, irrespective of whether their situation followed divorce or widowhood. Widowed fathers also received more support, but only with housework. A good parent-child relationship was the most important motivator for giving support, whereas subscribing to filial obligation norms was a much weaker motivator, especially for social support. Insofar as demographic and cultural changes in family structures predict a lower likelihood of support from children to elderly parents, this applies to practical support, and derives mainly from increased geographical separation distances and from the growing trend for parents to take new partners. Social support is unlikely to be affected by these changes if parents and children maintain good relationships.

(Accepted July 25 2007)

Correspondence:

c1 Address for correspondence: Maria C. Stuifbergen, Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care, UMC Utrecht, postbus 85060, 3508 BA Utrecht, The Netherlands. E-mail: m.stuifbergen@umcutrecht.nl