Children's Divorce and Parent-Child Contact: A Within-Family Analysis of Older European Parents

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2016 Mar;71(2):332-43. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbu141. Epub 2014 Oct 8.


Objectives: Studies have shown that a parental divorce has a negative effect on parent-child relations. This study examines how adult children's divorce affects the amount of contact children have with older parents, making a distinction between the effects of being single on the one hand and the effects of divorce on the other hand.

Method: Using data on older adults in 11 European countries, I estimate within-family regression models to compare multiple adult children per parent (19,454 children aged 30-49; 10,476 parents aged 50-96). I analyze contact frequency while taking into account coresidence and distance.

Results: When comparing single divorced children and married children, no difference in contact is observed, but divorced children are more likely to live with their parents. When comparing among children who are single, divorced children have less frequent contact with parents than never-married children. This negative divorce effect exists for sons and daughters and is found in 9 of the 11 countries.

Discussion: The divorce of a child has a double meaning: it leads to being single, which is associated with stronger intergenerational ties, but it is also a non-normative and stressful life event, which is associated with weaker intergenerational ties.

Keywords: Divorce; Intergenerational relations; Life course.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Adult Children*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Divorce / psychology*
  • Divorce / statistics & numerical data*
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parent-Child Relations*