Family disruption and support in later life: a comparative study between the United Kingdom and Italy

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

June 1, 2007


Global population aging has led to considerable disquiet about future support for frail older people; however, the determinants are poorly understood. Moreover, most industrialized societies have witnessed considerable changes in family behavior (e.g., rises in divorce and declining fertility). Such trends may have adversely affected the support systems of older people; nonetheless, only recently has research begun to address this issue. Employing data from the longitudinal British Household Panel Survey (1991-2003) and the 1998 Indagine Multiscopo sulle Famiglie 'Famiglia, soggetti sociali e condizione dell’infanzia,' we investigated the association between family disruptions due to divorce, separation, or death and three key dimensions of informal support: (i) frequency of contact with unrelated friends (among all respondents aged 65 years and over); (ii) co-residence with children (among unmarried mothers aged 65 years and over); and (iii) regular or frequent help received from children (e.g., household assistance including care) among parents aged 65 years and over. In addition, we conducted a comparative investigation of the relationship between family disruptions and the use of home care services (i.e., health visitor or district nurse; home help; meals-on-wheels) among parents aged 65 years and over. Our findings suggest that in a culture like the U.K.'s, where relations between kin are primarily influenced by individualistic values, support in later life appears to be primarily related to need, whereas in societies with a strong familistic culture (like Italy's), support is received irrespective of the older person's individual characteristics.

Published in

Journal of Social Issues


Volume: 63 (4):845-863




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