Parent-child relationships following grey divorce: stronger ties with mothers, weaker ties with fathers

Büyükkeçeci, Z., Leopold, T.
Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences (2024)
Open Access


Objective: With rising grey divorce rates, older individuals face heightened risk of social isolation, highlighting the significance of adult children as a vital source of solidarity in the absence of a spouse. Simultaneously, grey divorce may undermine parent-adult child relationships and weaken the core of the family safety net of older persons. This study examined the consequences of grey divorce for parent-child relationships.
Method: We used longitudinal data from the German Family Panel (Pairfam), a large-scale panel study collecting detailed information about family relationships and family structure. We focused on adult children aged 18-49 (n=9,092) whose parents were married at first observation. During an observation period spanning up to 13 years (2008-2020), 606 individuals experienced parental divorce. Using fixed-effects models, we estimated changes in contact frequency, emotional closeness, and instrumental and emotional support provided to parents.
Results: Consequences of grey divorce varied strongly between mothers and fathers. Adult child solidarity intensified for mothers but eroded for fathers. This impact was strongest for changes in contact frequency, moderate for changes in emotional closeness, and smaller for changes in support. The persistence of gender role differentiation was evident, as daughters displayed closer ties and provided greater support to their mothers following a grey divorce.
Discussion: Divorce alters relationships with adult children. A grey divorce tilts adult child solidarity towards mothers and puts fathers at a higher risk of social isolation. Moreover, the observed gender dynamics underscore the continued influence of gender roles on family dynamics in the aftermath of grey divorce.

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