Geographic Dispersion and the Well-being of the Elderly

Authors

Abstract

Perhaps the largest problem confronting our aging population is the rising cost of health care, particularly the costs borne by Medicare and Medicaid. A chief component of this expense is long-term care. Much of this care for an unmarried (mostly widowed) mother is currently provided by adult children. The provision of family care depends importantly on the geographic dispersion of family members. In this study we provide preliminary evidence on the geographic dispersion of adult children and their older unmarried mother. Coresidence is less likely for married adult children, those who are parents and the highly educated and more likely for those who are not working or only employed part time and for black and Hispanic adult children. Close proximity is more common for married children who are parents but less common for the highly educated. When we look at transitions between one wave of data collection and the next (a two-year interval), about half of adult children live more than 10 miles away at both points, a little less than one quarter live within 10 miles at both points, and 8 percent are coresident at both points in time. Among the 17 percent who make a transition, about half of the changes result in greater distance between the adult child and mother and half bring them into closer proximity. The needs of both generations are likely reflected in these transitions. In fact, a mother’s health is not strongly related to most transitions and if anything, distance tends to be greater for older mothers relative to those mothers in their early 50s.

Key Findings

  • The majority of care for the frail elderly is provided by family members.  Kin who live nearby are more likely to provide care than those who live farther away, although the causal association between proximity and care is hard to establish. We describe proximity and co-residence of adult children and their mothers as a backdrop for understanding the availability of potential caregivers.
  • Co-residence of adult children and widowed or divorced mothers is significantly more likely among Hispanics and non-Hispanic Blacks than among non-Hispanic Whites.
  • Co-residence is less likely for married adult children, for children who are themselves parents, and for the highly educated.
  • Adult children who live with a widowed or divorced mother are less likely to be employed full-time than adult children who live on their own.
  • Approximately one half of adult children and their mothers live more than 10 miles apart and do not appear to move closer to each other over a two-year period.  A little less than one quarter live within 10 miles of each other and 8 percent share a household.
  • Among the 17 percent of mother-child pairs whose proximity changes in a two-year period, about half of the changes bring the mother and adult child geographically closer to each other and half farther apart.
  • The needs of both generations are likely reflected in moves that result in co-residence.

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Project

Paper ID

WP 2010-234

Publication Type

Working Paper

Publication Year

2010
pavement-enterprise