Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

Cohabitation among Older Adults: Well-Being, Relationships with Adult Children, and Perceptions of Care Availability

Date of Award

2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Susan Brown (Advisor)

Second Advisor

I-Fen Lin (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Karen Guzzo (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Kei Nomaguchi (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Susan Peet (Other)

Abstract

Cohabitation has been increasing among older adults over the past decade. Despite the growth in cohabitation, research on this population remains limited. It is well established that the married enjoy better health than the unmarried, and while previous research has considered the psychological well-being of older cohabitors, it is less clear whether cohabitation provides physical health benefits. It is also unclear how cohabitors compare with the married and unpartnered on parent-child relationships. These omissions are notable because families play a key role in the lives of older adults. Using 2008 and 2010 Health and Retirement Study data, I assess psychological well-being and physical health differences between continuously married, remarried, cohabiting, divorced, widowed, and never married older adults. Second, I examine how cohabitors compare to the continuously married, remarried, divorced, and widowed on relationships with adult children. Finally, I explore marital status differences in parent’s beliefs that their children would help in the future with basic personal care. Throughout the project, gender differences are considered. I find that older cohabitors have poorer self-rated health than the continuously married and remarried, but the disadvantaged profile of cohabitors explains the differences. Cohabitors and unpartnereds have similar physical health. Cohabitors do not differ from the continuously married and remarried on psychological well-being, but enjoy better well-being than unpartnereds. There is little variation by gender. On parent-child relationships, cohabitors have less frequent contact and lower positive relationship quality than the continuously married and widowed, but are similar to the remarried and divorced. Mothers reported more frequent contact and higher positive and negative relationship quality with children than fathers. Moreover, positive quality differs by marital status for fathers but not mothers, whereas negative quality differs for mothers but not fathers. Finally, cohabitors are the least likely to list a child as someone they believe is willing to provide future help with basic personal care. Parent-child relationship characteristics explained the differences in care perceptions. Overall, my study extends prior research on the well-being of older cohabitors, and sheds new light on how cohabitation is linked to parent-child relationships and perceptions of future care receipt from adult children.

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