Evolving parent–adult child relations: location of multiple children and psychological well-being of older adults in China
Objective: This study examines the interplay among intergenerational emotional closeness, location of multiple children, and parental depressive symptoms in the context of massive migration in rural China. Study design: This study is based on a longitudinal survey. Methods: Longitudinal data were collected from a stratified random sample of age 60 and over living in rural townships within Chaohu, a primarily agricultural municipal district with massive out-migration in China. In 2009, 1224 individuals completed the survey, and 977 (79.8% of the original participants) were followed up in 2012. We estimate fixed-effects models to examine how changing collective emotional cohesion and the total composition of children’s location affect parents’ depressive symptoms. Results: Descriptive analyses show that both the composition of children’s location and intergenerational emotional closeness are subject to changes during a three-year survey interval. Results from fixed-effect models further demonstrate that collective emotional closeness and psychological well-being are positively associated with each other. This association is the strongest when all children are local but it becomes less prominent when there are more migrant than local children. Conclusions: This study has provided important evidence that both intergenerational cohesion and location of multiple children evolve over time and jointly influence parents’ psychological well-being in later life. The left-behind older adults are not necessarily the most vulnerable group in rural China. Those with most adult children living close by could also suffer from a deficit in psychological well-being if the emotional bond between them is weak.