Research Programme


The timing of parental divorce and filial obligations to care for parents later in life

Jane Falkingham, Jo Sage, Maria Evandrou

Project summary

Objectives

This research explores how parental marital disruption, and the timing of it within the ‘child’s’ lifecourse, can influence the obligations they feel to care for their parents in later life. The majority of studies have suggested that parental divorce that occurs earlier in a child’s life will have the most detrimental effect on their relationships with their parents in later years, and also on their obligations to provide care for their parents as they grow old.The study aims to examine the actual transfers and exchanges of support that mid-life adult children are engaged in, including how and why these are prioritised. It explores the impacts of different types of parental marital disruption on adult children’s relationships with their parents (including periods of conflict, separation, reconciliation, divorce, bereavement and re-partnering).

Methods

The study has collected retrospective data on about 42 participants’ lives (aged 36-64) from birth to the time of interview. A multi-method approach using Life History Calendar (LHC) techniques, life narrative and semi-structured interview methods was employed. Life history calendars have been used as a method for capturing robust quantitative life history data by increasing the power of the participant’s autobiographical memory. This is done using events and transitions that can be easily remembered (such as the participant’s wedding or graduation) as reference points for recalling less prominent events and statuses such as the quality or closeness of personal relationships. This study has applied the Life History Calendar method in an innovative way within a qualitative research framework to accurately ‘map out’ participants’ lifecourses, which was crucial for understanding the links between the timing of parental marital disruption and the changing quality of relationships and contact with parents.

Findings

Findings challenge the contention that parental divorce which occurs earlier in a child’s life will have the most detrimental effect on their relationships with their parents in later years, and also on their obligations to provide care as they grow old. It focuses on those who have experienced parental divorce relatively recently as adult children, demonstrating how mid-life experiences of parental divorce have weakened their feelings of obligation to care for their parents in significant ways.

In contrast, respondents who did experience parental divorce earlier in their lives often cited examples of subsequent events which improved their relationships with their parents – in particular their own child-bearing (or from the older parent’s perspective, the arrival of grandchildren). The research also demonstrates how the deterioration of marital relations in post-retirement couples has resulted in some older parents ‘living together apart’ rather than divorcing. This can often involve the social withdrawal of fathers, weakening relationships with their adult children and reducing their willingness to provide care.

These findings are presented within the context of rising divorce rates in older age groups in the UK and a projected widening of the informal care gap.

 

Project Activities

Date Activity Description
13-16 June 2012 Presentation at the British-Irish Population Conference held in Belfast. The paper ‘The effects of post-retirement marital disruption on intergenerational exchanges, and the obligations of mid-life adult children to care’ by Jane Falkingham, Jo Sage and Maria Evandrou was presented at this event.
18 April 2012 Presentation at the European Population Conference held in Stockholm. The paper ‘The effects of parental marital disruption on the obligations of mid-life adult children to care’ by Jo Sage, Maria Evandrou and Jane Falkingham was presented at this event.

 

Publications

Sage J., Evandrou, M. and Falkingham, J. (2013) The timing of parental divorce and filial obligations to care for ageing parents, Families, Relationships and Societies, 3, (1), 113-130

 

Media activities

You can browse all of our CPC media outputs and population-related articles from CPC members on our Scoop.it! page.