The effects of parental marital disruption on the obligations of mid-life ‘adult children’ to care

Joanna Sage, University of Southampton
Maria Evandrou, University of Southampton
Jane C. Falkingham, University of Southampton

This paper challenges the dominant thesis that parental divorce occurring during childhood has a greater detrimental effect on the obligations (adult) children feel to provide care for their parents in later life, than parental divorce which occurs later in the lifecourse during the child’s own adulthood. Drawing upon interviews with mid-life participants who have experienced disruption in their parent’s marriage at different stages of the lifecourse (either during childhood, adolescence/young adulthood, or during mid-life), our findings reveal how parental marital disharmony unfolding during adulthood can have particularly detrimental effects on the obligations adult ‘children’ feel to provide care for their ageing parents. In particular, we show how the deterioration of marital relations in post-retirement couples has resulted in weakened relationships with their mid-life (adult) children, who have expressed diluted obligations to care for their parents as a result – underlining parental retirement as a key lifecourse event, which can unsettle marital dynamics and family relations. We present these findings within the context of an increasing informal care-gap in the UK, and the complex intergenerational exchange frameworks of our ‘sandwich generation’ participants, outlining a clear critique of family-centric social care policy in the UK.

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Presented in Session 52: Care and support in later life