Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 1 » Coresidence - Diversity In Living Arrangements, Advantages And Disadvantages Of Coresidence, Changing Patterns In Coresidence, Conclusion

Coresidence - Changing Patterns In Coresidence

age social percent grandparents grandchildren children

In spite of historical increases in living alone, the large majority of elderly persons—about seven out of ten—still live with others. According to the Census Bureau's 1998 Population Reports, slightly more than half (54 percent) of the older population live with a spouse, 13 percent live with at least one relative other than a spouse, and 2 percent live with a nonrelative. However, these statistics belie recent shifts in the types of households in which older people tend to reside. There are two important historical changes in the intergenerational household circumstances of the aged: (1) generational reversals in household headship, and (2) a rise in older adults raising grandchildren.

One of the most striking changes in the residential circumstances of elderly persons is their gain of power within multigenerational households. Between 1940 and 1990, older adults cohabiting with members of other generations contributed an increasingly larger share to their total household incomes and were gradually more likely to assume household headship. Today, older parents are more likely to provide a home for their middle-aged adult children than their children are to provide a home for them. In part, this trend is due to the changing needs of the younger generation as divorce rates have accelerated. Children's marital status is a strong predictor of coresidence, as parents with unmarried adult children have an appreciably greater risk of having an adult child at home. While separated and divorced daughters are more likely than married daughters to move in with their parents, these unmarried daughters tend to offer less financial and social support, suggesting that it is the daughters' needs that precipitated the shared living arrangement.

Another growing phenomenon is the increase in the number of grandparents who raise grandchildren. In 1999, 5.6 percent of grandchildren under the age of eighteen—5.5 million children—lived with at least one grandparent, representing a 76 percent increase since 1970. It is estimated that between 10 percent and 16 percent of grandparents have had the experience of housing a grandchild for at least six months. Often, in such households, the parent is not present due to economic difficulties, divorce, or single parenthood. Between 1990 and 1994, the number of children being raised in these skipped-generation households increased by 45 percent (from 935,000 to 1,359,000). Most of these households are the product of parental characteristics, behaviors, or conditions (such as incarceration, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, divorce, mental and physical illnesses, child abuse and neglect, and HIV/AIDS) that inhibit their ability to parent effectively.

The phenomenon of grandparents coresiding with grandchildren is most common among minority group members. In 1995, 13.5 percent of African-American grandchildren were living with a grandparent or other relatives, compared with 6.5 percent of Hispanic children and 4.1 percent of white children. An estimated 30 percent of African-American grandmothers have been responsible for raising a grandchild for at least six months, compared with 10.9 percent of all grandparents. This difference is attributed to cultural values and the pooling of limited economic resources between generations. In the decades of the 1980s and 1990s, African-American grandmothers between fifty and sixty-nine years of age were 6 to 8 percent more likely than white grandmothers to live in a skippedgeneration household. At least some of this growing racial disparity has been attributed to the crack-cocaine epidemic, as well as the growth of the African American underclass in the 1980s, which resulted in grandparents (and great grandparents) being primary caregivers for grandchildren whose parents were in crisis.

Within a long-term historical framework a different picture emerges, as the recent rise in grandparent-headed households appears to be a historical anomaly. Evidence shows that over the twentieth century there was a decline in the percentage of American grandparents who coreside with their grandchildren. According to Peter Uhlenberg (2000), between 1900 and 1990 the proportion of white grandmothers sixty to sixty-nine years of age coresiding with a grandchild declined from 24 percent to 6 percent. The proportion of African-American grandmothers in the same age category who coresided with a grandchild declined from 40 percent to 17 percent over the same period. Thus, the recent upturn in grandparent-grandchild coresidence is only a slight reversal of a long-term downward trend. However, the social implications of this recent change are vast, given the sheer number of grandchildren involved, and have caused fundamental changes in family life, with grandparents increasingly being given the opportunity to serve as filial "safety nets."

The age of grandparents coresiding with grandchildren has become younger over time. Before 1980, the majority of grandparents living with grandchildren were over sixty years old, after which the majority were under sixty years of age. This trend is the result of changes in the nature and type of household structure of coresiding grandparents, with increasingly more grandparents as providers of support to others in the household. There are sometimes emotional costs for grandparents who provide extraordinary forms of care by assuming parenthood for the second time. Adopting such a role may induce distress if it is unanticipated and involuntary. Grandparents who raise grandchildren have less time for their spouses, friends, and hobbies. Fuller-Thompson and Minkler (2000) found that grandparents raising grandchildren suffer from increased psychological and physical distress when compared to grandparents who do not have grandchildren in their households. Many caregiving grandparents have adult children struggling with serious difficulties, leading to feelings of self-blame, betrayal, and helplessness, as well as accentuated experiences of physical health symptoms.

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