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Parent-Child Relationship - Effects Of Childlessess On The Elderly

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Considering the closeness and mutually supportive relationships that many adult children and elderly parents enjoy, it is reasonable to expect that elderly individuals who are parents would be happier than those who do not have children. However, the research on this issue has consistently demonstrated that individuals who are childless are as happy and well-adjusted as are parents, even in the later years. Further, people who are sixty-five or older and do not have children are more likely to report advantages than disadvantages of childlessness. Individuals who have remained childless have been found to develop social networks that compensate for the absence of support from adult children. However, the emphasis on such compensatory mechanisms vary by gender. For example, childless women are more likely than their male counterparts to develop close friendship networks and become involved with community and religious organizations. Not surprisingly, older individuals who are the most likely to be disadvantaged by their childlessness are widowed men who had been dependent primarily on their wives for instrumental and emotional support.

The one area in which there are substantial differences between the experiences of parents and the childless in the later years is living arrangements. Elderly people who are childless are about 50 percent more likely to live in some form of residential care at some point than are parents. One might expect that this would mean that childless men would be the most likely to live in residential care at some point in their later years; however, the fact that women are more likely to be childless, combined with their longer life expectancy, means that childless women are more likely than childless men to live in residentialcare facilities at some point.

J. JILL SUITOR KARL PILLEMER

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