Boomerang children and parents’ quality of life in Europe

There have been many studies examining the effects of living with an adult child on parents’ physical and mental health. However, alternative pathways to intergenerational co-residence may have different or even opposite implications for parents’ well-being. In our study we used longitudinal data from four waves of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (2007-2015) to analyse whether returns to the parental home by adult children are associated with changes in parents’ quality of life.

Although other possible dependent variables, such as depressive symptoms, are available in SHARE, we chose to analyse parents’ Quality of Life (QoL) using the CASP-12 scale. Living under the same roof after a period of independence may lead to a new family equilibrium where both parents and adult children negotiate their spaces and activities harmoniously. However, returns by adult children to the parental home may in other cases challenge valued autonomy or disrupt a life stage in which parents enjoy hobbies and daily activities without the responsibility for children. The CASP scale which includes the four dimensions of Control, Autonomy, Self-Realization and Pleasure fits our research purpose particularly well.

The analysis was performed on parents aged 50-75 in order to reduce the chance that home returning was due to parents’ healthcare needs. Intergenerational co-residence of frail elderly parents and caregiving children may have different implications for parents’ QoL. In our analytical sample, only two per cent of parents had a child moving back home, indicating that returning to the parental home is a quite rare phenomenon in Europe.

Results from fixed effects regression models show that parents’ QoL decreased when a child returned to the parental home, and this effect was mainly driven by children who moved back to an empty nest. This provides evidence that parents enjoy their independence and daily activities when their children leave the home, and returns to an empty nest may disrupt this life course stage.

We analysed whether parent’s QoL decreased more when the returning child was unemployed or divorced as it might be that the reason for returning home, rather than the move per se, was related to a decline in parents’ QoL. Although children’s job loss was negatively associated with parents’ QoL, there were no associations between changes in parental quality of life and the returning child’s characteristics.

A further research question addressed in this study is related to the varying effects that returns to the parental home may have across different European societies. The findings show that returns home by adult children were associated with a decline in parent’s QoL in Nordic countries where autonomy and family independence have a greater value. In sum, our results suggest that home returning has a negative effect on parents’ QoL in a grouping of Nordic countries and when no other children lived in the family nest.

Guest blog post by Dr Marco Tosi, ALPHA Research Unit, Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics

Tosi, M., & Grundy, E. (2018). Returns home by children and changes in parents’ well-being in Europe. Social Science & Medicine.

Paper: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953618300169.

The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013)/ ERC grant agreement n° 324055.

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