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Intergenerational Relations - Living Arrangements

single parent gender cohabitation family children live countries coresidence

Changes in demography and family structure have shaped the living arrangements of both the elderly and adult children. Although these changes vary across countries and cultures, the latter half of the twentieth century was characterized by declining household size and an increase in nuclear families.

Lower fertility and increased migration have shrunk the average household size in both developed and developing countries and led to more dispersed family networks, whereas the proportion of people living alone in single-person households is mounting. The sources for these trends include normative changes, such as delayed marriage and changing gender roles, as well as higher rates of marital dissolution and growing numbers of elderly persons whose spouses have died.

The most striking change in household arrangements in developed countries has been a drift towards single-person households. Tracing the historical trends in family living arrangements, Gerdt Sundstrom (1993) found that Western countries and Japan have shown declines in the proportion of older people living with their children since 1950. This is particularly true for the older people in Sweden, who are more likely to live alone than elders in the United States (40% compared to 30%). In the early 1950s, for example, 27 percent of elderly Swedes lived with their children compared to 33 percent in the United States. Now, the rate of cohabitation of older people with their children had fallen to roughly 5 percent in Sweden compared with 15 percent in the United States.

The probability of living alone increases with age, even though there might be a decline for the oldest ages. Because women on average outlive men and tend to be younger than their spouses, it is not surprising to find that in all older age groups the percentage of women living alone is usually higher than that of men. It has been recognized that older men in the United States almost certainly live with a spouse, even in very late life. In contrast, women are most likely to live alone or with their children (Himes, Hogan, and Eggebeen 1996).

Despite the high proportion of the elderly who live alone in developed countries, a majority of those aged sixty-five and over live with others. Recent cohorts of young adults have postponed nest-leaving and an increasing number of adult children return to the parental home during periods of transition, economic hardship, or marital problems. Obviously, in these cases coresidence is a response to the needs of adult children, rather than caregiving for parents. Sons are found to be more likely than daughters to delay nest-leaving or to return to the parental home (Goldscheider and Goldscheider 1994). Moreover, Alwin Duane (1996) found that there is a trend towards the acceptability of coresidence and that the younger cohorts were more approving of coresidence with aged parents as compared to the elders themselves. This could be because coresidency comes across as a more positive experience for the adult children (Ward and Spitze 1996). Parental coresidence is more prevalent among men and women raised by single or remarried mothers and men living with single fathers, and less common among individuals living with remarried fathers (Szinovacz 1997).

Living patterns are important because they affect the exchange of help and support and also reflect cultural preferences. For instance, parent-child proximity in the United Kingdom may be more likely to arise from the needs of the older generation, whereas in Italy strong cultural norms pertaining to mutual aid between parents and children may be the rationale for cultural proximity and— often—coresidence (Glaser and Tomassini 2000).

An examination of living arrangements of the elderly in developing countries shows that relatively few elderly individuals live alone. Nearly three out of four Koreans aged sixty years and over live with their children. Korean parents are more likely to live with sons than daughters, and are also more likely to live with married children (Won and Lee 1999). Akiko Hashimoto (1991) examined seven different developing countries—Brazil, Egypt, India, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and Zimbabwe—and found that older parents maintained coresidence with their adult children despite changing socioeconomic and demographic conditions. Among these countries, India, Singapore, Thailand, and South Korea showed the highest incidence of coresidence between older parents and married children and lowest in Egypt and Brazil.


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about 4 years ago

people living alone in single-person households is mounting.

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