Golden Years Not So Golden

The golden years might not be so golden for the elderly in the US. Why? It may be because adult US children are not emotionally close to their parents. Studies comparing the relationships between senior parents and their adult children in six first-world countries found that residents of the United States are most likely to have a tumultuous familial bond.

American professors examined data collected from the from a European study on old age which focused on five European nations: Norway, England, Israel, Spain, and Germany. They compared this to a similar study on aging in America.

After taking into account both parent and child’s indicated levels of friendliness and closeness, modes of communication, and rate of conflict, the researchers classified the parent/child relationships in the United States “disharmonious.” United States adult children are the least likely to live with their parents (3.3%), the least likely to have weekly contact with their parents (29.2%), and the least likely to assist their parents with chores (8.7%). On the flip side, experts classified parent/child relationships in Germany and Spain as detached, Israel as ambivalent, and England as amicable.

Researchers believe that the socio-political climates have strong influences on parent/child dynamics. For example, they suspect that Israel’s mixed emotional bonds are in part the result of political turmoil. Whereas, they attribute the United States’s strained relationships to the country’s “stronger individualistic ideology… [and] weaker public service sector.”  Indeed, the professors found that the primary reason for discord between parent and child came from dealing with long-term care, which Americans face more often compared to Europeans who have more prominent eldercare programs in place.

While the study does not offer specific advice on how we can improve our relationships, the conclusion that the stress of eldercare plays a large factor suggests that we should discuss these matters with our family and devise a plan before the conflict begins.  Still, should fights still arise, you can take consolation in the fact that some arguments can be good in familial relationships.  As the researchers surmise, the fact that parents and adults children take the time to squabble may show a level of care and nurturing above the German and Spanish whose “apathy is more detrimental than conflict.”

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1 Comment

  • There are many sides to this issue and one that is often overlooked and that is the part where American parents treat their children as intrusions on their lives, particularly as their kids reach their teen years. Many parents, mine included, make it clear that they want their kids out of the house and independent at the earliest possible time so that they can return to “living their lives” (i.e., spending all of their money and time on themselves) as a couple. In Japan, kids often live with their parents for their entire lives, and the support the kids get in their middle life (babysitting, help with housework) is repaid later to the parents. It is the parents in America who often initiate the first step in having a distant relationship from their kids when they push them out of the nest rather than make them welcome.

    It also doesn’t help that American culture views people who continue to live with their parents as “losers”. It’s not so much about individualism as independence. People who can’t make it on their own are viewed as failures, and it’s difficult for every child to remain in proximity to their parents to pursue a career or higher education. Once physical distance is required to obtain financial independence, the emotional distance follows.

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