Volume 44 - Article 24 | Pages 563–594

The mixed blessing of living together or close by: Parent–child relationship quality and life satisfaction of older adults in China

By Ke Shen, Feinian Chen, Hangqing Ruan

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Date received:26 Apr 2020
Date published:23 Mar 2021
Word count:5914
Keywords:China, coresidence, intergenerational relationships, life satisfaction
Weblink:You will find all publications in this Special Collection on Family Changes and Inequality in East Asia here.


Background: Geographic proximity between parents and children is increasingly recognized as an alternative measure to coresidence as a gauge for intergenerational support in China. The quality of intergenerational relationships is another important dimension of intergenerational ties that is often underexplored.

Objective: We examine the association between parent–child proximity and life satisfaction of older adults and how it interacts with the quality of intergenerational relationships, particularly for vulnerable subpopulations.

Methods: We use data from the China Longitudinal Aging Social Survey (CLASS 2014). We use ordered logit models to predict life satisfaction scores (ranged 1 to 4).

Results: Our analyses show that parent–child relationship quality is strongly associated with life satisfaction, regardless of living proximity, in our full sample analysis. For those who have a lower-quality relationship with their children, coresidence or close-distance living does not enhance life satisfaction and they indeed have lower life satisfaction than those parents who have all children living farther away but maintain a high-quality relationship with them. At the same time, for those who have a high-quality relationship with their children, we find that close proximity provides added benefits for the subpopulations who are socioeconomically or physically disadvantaged, that is, female, urban, unmarried, and disabled (in terms of being capable of activities of daily living, or ADL) older adults.

Conclusions: We recognize the interdependence of the quality of the intergenerational ties and parent–child proximity in promoting life satisfaction, particularly for subpopulations who are in stronger need of support from adult children.

Contribution: Our study clearly points to the importance of extending the research on intergenerational relationship beyond the boundary of the household and of paying close attention to the affective dimension of intergenerational ties.

Author's Affiliation

Ke Shen - Fudan University, China [Email]
Feinian Chen - University of Maryland, United States of America [Email]
Hangqing Ruan - University of Maryland, United States of America [Email]

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