Volume 48 - Article 21 | Pages 591–608  

Weakened parent–child ties and the well-being of older divorced parents

By Matthijs Kalmijn


Background: The consequences of declining parent–child ties after divorce have primarily been studied for children’s well-being and not for parents’ well-being. Some parents lose contact with their children after divorce, and one would expect that such a decline in contact hampers their emotional well-being, in particular when parents are older and children are adults.

Objective: This study aims to describe the association between how much contact divorced fathers and mothers have with their children and parents’ well-being in old age.

Methods: This report uses a survey with a register-based oversample of divorced parents and children from the Netherlands in 2017 (N = 4,641). Parents (mean age 62) reported about life satisfaction, health, and loneliness and on contact with two adult children (mean age 34).

Results: A sizeable minority of older divorced parents had little or no contact with their children, although this was more common among fathers than mothers. Parents who had little or no contact with their adult children had substantially lower levels of well-being than parents who had regular contact with their adult children. A negative association was present for mothers and fathers. Divorced parents with a (new) partner were less strongly affected by the lack of contact with children, pointing to the compensating role of partners.

Conclusions: Reduced contact with adult children after divorce is strongly associated with parents’ well-being. In a more general sense, the findings point to a vulnerable segment of the divorced population that is currently aging.

Contribution: The study presents systematic quantitative evidence on an often assumed but rarely tested association.

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Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

Migrating to a new country in late life: A review of the literature on international retirement migration
Volume 48 - Article 9

The long-term improvement in father–child relationships after divorce: Descriptive findings from the Netherlands
Volume 46 - Article 15

Cited References: 39

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