Does Living With Children Make the Elderly Miserable?

(Photo: tacit requiem)

A new working paper (gated) by Angus Deaton and Arthur A. Stone is called “Grandpa and the Snapper: the Wellbeing of the Elderly who Live with Children”:

Elderly Americans who live with people under age 18 have lower life evaluations than those who do not.  They also experience worse emotional outcomes, including less happiness and enjoyment, and more stress, worry, and anger.  In part, these negative outcomes come from selection into living with a child, especially selection on poor health, which is associated with worse outcomes irrespective of living conditions.  Yet even with controls, the elderly who live with children do worse.  This is in sharp contrast to younger adults who live with children, likely their own, whose life evaluation is no different in the presence of the child once background conditions are controlled for.  Parents, like elders, have enhanced negative emotions in the presence of a child, but unlike elders, also have enhanced positive emotions.  In parts of the world where fertility rates are higher, the elderly do not appear to have lower life evaluations when they live with children; such living arrangements are more usual, and the selection into them is less negative.  They also share with younger adults the enhanced positive and negative emotions that come with children.  The misery of the elderly living with children is one of the prices of the demographic transition.

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  1. David C says:

    Unless they forcibly, randomly, assigned grandparents to families, this is junk science. Those grandparents that move into their children/grand-children’s houses are a very select group. The grandparent’s irritability or mental illness might be a cause of them needing to move in with family rather than being on their own, which would explain their unhappiness. The presence of open umbrellas doesn’t mean they cause rain!

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    • James says:

      There are also children with grandchildren who move into the grandparent’s houses, sometimes (often?) because of the kids’ financial/marital problems rather than any problem on the grandparents’ part. Comparing these to the other sort should determine whether the umbrellas are causing the rain, or vice versa.

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  2. Enter your name... says:

    This seems to translate thusly:

    Grandparents who live with the grandchildren, but didn’t want to, don’t like it.

    Grandparents who live with the grandchildren, and think this is normal, do like it.

    Yeah, I think that if I spent my whole life expecting independence and quietness during my senior years, and I ended up stuck in some relative’s home with noisy kids due to having no other options, I’d be unhappy about it, too. Every noise would sound like “you are too poor/weak/sick/disabled/incompetent to live on your own”.

    But if instead I spent all those years expecting it and thinking a multigenerational home was the crowning achievement of a loving family, then I’d be happy about it, and every noise would say “How blessed you are, not to be abandoned and rejected.”

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    • Rob says:

      … and in one well-worded comment, he rendered several million dollars in research redundant.

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    • Kentucky Packrat says:

      Not liking your family is not a generational trait: My grandfather had two siblings. One was a bit gruff, but he was relatively tolerant of his precocious great-nephew. The other lived her final decade or so in their birth house, rarely leaving her apartment. I never remember her leaving her bed, even, but I am fairly sure she wasn’t bedridden. She was born rich and married richer (a couple of times), and (I think) had several kids. However, she chose to essentially die alone.

      However, the Boomer generation is the first that I can see that is choosing as a group to dislike their grandkids, and to want to have little to do with them. A lot of them don’t want to have much to do with their kids either. They want to live independently, and then move to childless assisted living before dying in childless nursing homes.

      Unless you go broke. Instead of saving hundreds of thousands of dollars, some people payed way too much for oversized homes and spent money they didn’t have and couldn’t pay back. Now, the plan gets derailed and you get to move in with cash-strapped kids trying to pay their overpriced student loans while running their kids through day care and useless public schools. Welcome to torment.

      Milady and I intend to remodel our house to turn the basement into a studio apartment, that can function separately from the rest of the house (including soundproofing). If one of the kids stays in Lexington, they can rent the upstairs (or buy the house and we will rent), and the little darlings can run down the stairs or around the house when needed.

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  3. Astraea says:

    Did they control for the reason that people live with children?

    In the US there are usually four reasons the grandparents live with children: (1) the grandparent cannot afford to live alone either because of money or health issues, (2) the parents cannot afford to move out either because of money, sanity, or health issues, or (3) the grandparents are raising the children because the parents are absent for various reasons like health, drug addiction, incarceration, unemployment, and (4) the family comes from a culture in which the multi-generational household is normal.

    The first three of these reasons would be extremely stressful for the grandparent, regardless of the stress level induced by the child. So I’m curious about whether the issue is based on the circumstances that cause grandparents to live with the grandchildren, or the children themselves.

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  4. k says:

    Living with children makes EVERYBODY miserable.
    People who deny this are avid users of selective memory.

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    • anonymous says:

      Yes, you don’t have to be ‘elderly’ to be miserable living with kids! Yeah, go on and call us bitter old child hating meanies! It’s not true we hate kids, but it’s really stressful living with them 24/7 in the best of times.

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      • James says:

        Yeah, and I LIKE kids: at any multi-generational gathering, I’m always the one playing ball with the kids, taking them for walks, &c. But I can do this only because I do it only occasionally, and can dump the kids back on the parents at any time. 24/7? I’d go mad.

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  5. Eevie says:

    My adult daughter who is a single mom of three kids under the age of 6 (youngest is 8 weeks old), moved in with my husband and me about a year ago (out of financial necessity). Although rules were laid out ahead of time (how long they would live with us, chores, etc.), it’s been miserable for my husband and I for the past 6 months. Mind you, our misery doesn’t stem from our grandchildren – we love them to the ends of the earth and enjoy them heartily – & their little selves love us right back & are very attached to their Nana & Papa. The misery comes from the fact that my daughter doesn’t keep her half of the bargain 75% of the time when it comes to chores, plus she expects us to be instant babysitters. We have absolutely no privacy, no peace & quiet, and when my husband & I get home from work (we work full time, M-F), the house is usually a pigstye, including a sink full of THEIR dirty dishes from 3 + days ago. She is constantly doing diaper laundry because she chose to use cloth diapers, so there is always a pile of laundry on top of our kitchen table. My husband & I can’t go anywhere or do anything just him & I together, by ourselves, because my daughter wants to tag along with the children (usually because she knows we’re going out to eat, so she & the children get a free meal at a restaurant, plus she knows she can share the workload of watching the children.) My husband & I literally have to SNEAK out of our own home to go somewhere by ourselves, & if we succeed, we know the phone call is coming soon (“where are you guys? when are you coming back home? why didn’t you let me know you were going somewhere; we would have like to get out of the house too”, etc., etc.) She’ll even put the 6 year old grandaughter on the phone (“Nana, Papa, where are you, why didn’t you take me with you…”, etc.), which makes us feel guilty and ruins our private outing.

    At this point, my daughter still has not found a job, and her child support has not kicked in yet, so we have also been 100% financially supporting them as well. If we kick her out, she would of course take the grandchildren with her since she’s the mom (& she is a good mother to the children, by the way). We don’t mind seeing my daughter live out of her car; it would do her good. But we will NEVER allow my grandchildren, who are innocent in all of this, to do so, or suffer because of her mistakes. It’s an awful catch 22. My husband & my stress level is out the roof and we have both commented to each other that we hate coming home (again, not because of the grandchildren; but because of the living situation). He and I have been arguing more and getting on each other’s nerves, mainly due to this stressful living situation. Our home is no longer our home. It’s a 3-ring circus.

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    • Candice Valli says:

      Dear God, my heart goes out to you. The part about having to sneak out of the house, and then be guilted into coming back early because of a sneak call by the grandkids is just awful.

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