Adult child-parent relationships

Publication type

Book Chapter

Series Number



Changing Relationships


Publication date

June 1, 2008


The chapter uncovers a number of important associations concerned with flows of contact and help between parents aged 60 and over and their adult children. In particular, more affluent parents are more likely to provide regular or frequent financial help to their adult children and more affluent children are less likely to receive it, as either altruism or inequity aversion theories would suggest. Also, more affluent children see their mother or father less frequently and are less likely to provide them regular or frequent in-kind help, and more affluent parents see their adult sons and daughters less frequently and are less likely to receive regular or frequent in-kind help. An explanation for these associations with parents’ resources is that adult children provide more frequent contact and in-kind help to reduce the inequity in well-being if their parents are worse off than them, and higher parental resources reduce the need to make such ‘service transfers’. That is, while family constitutions may operate, there are a sufficient proportion of people making transfers in excess of the minima prescribed by them and these transfers are motivated by inequity aversion rather than altruism.
But these associations concerning contact and in-kind help primarily reflect a tendency for more affluent children and parents to live farther apart, with greater distance reducing contact and in-kind help. Thus, an important part of the story about intergenerational relations concerns parents’ and children’s location decisions relative to each other.
In light of the importance of this ‘family geography’, the chapter also investigates how parental income is associated with the distance that children move when they leave their parental home. It finds that young people who leave higher-income parental homes move farther away. Where children live relative to their parents when their parents are aged 60 and over also depends, of course, on the extent of subsequent movement by both parents and children. A significant proportion of the British population appears to be sufficiently mobile to adjust their location later, particularly the adult children. As evidence of such adjustment, the presence of a grandchild is associated with a smaller distance between parent and child, and consequently more frequent intergenerational contact. Nevertheless, the more distant departure among young people from wealthier homes appears to have long-lasting impacts. Children may be sufficiently ‘forward looking’ about their supply of future contact with and help to their parents in response to the parents’ expected resources, or their first move may initiate a dynamic process that affects their location relative to parents in the longer-term. This deserves further investigation.
There are also significant gender patterns, perhaps because women put more effort into maintaining kin networks. Daughters have more frequent contact with their mother or father than sons, particularly if they have a dependent child, and daughters are more likely to receive regular or frequent help from parents: financial, child care or other in-kind help. Mothers are more likely to receive regular or frequent in-kind help from an adult child and see them more frequently than fathers. Fathers are more likely than mothers to provide financial help to their adult children. Family size also affects intergenerational relations: adult offspring with more brothers and sisters have less frequent contact with their parents, and they are less likely to receive financial, in-kind or child care help from their parents. Children also respond to particular parental needs: parents whose health limits their daily activities are more likely to receive regular or frequent in-kind help from and see their adult children more frequently. These effects also operate through distance: parents whose health limits their daily activities tend to live closer to their children.

Volume and page numbers

Volume: 127-145 , p.127 -146



by Malcolm Brynin and John Ermisch (eds.)



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