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Past Event

Family, friends and well-being among older parents

Abou the speaker

John Ermisch is Professor of Family Demography at the University of Oxford Department of Sociology and a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College. His research is concerned with the structure and dynamics of families and their interaction with wider society. His recent research has studied the allocation of resources within the family, the transmission of advantage across generations, non-marital childbearing, the interaction of child support and non-resident fathers' contact with their children, the impact of family ties on trust in strangers and the effect of fertility expectations on residential mobility. Currently he is studying the intergenerational exchange of in-kind support, including the geographic proximity of parents to children, the impacts of interactions with friends, families and neighbours on older people's well-being and the effect of family ties on residential mobility. He is co-investigator for the ESRC-supported project called Life Course and Family Dynamics in a Comparative Perspective. It is a cross-national study involving partners from China, the Netherlands and Germany as well as the UK. A primary objective is to compare the dynamics of changes over the life course at four key stages: child development and schooling; the transition to adulthood; security, insecurity and well- being in midlife; and intergenerational support in later life. In addition, an equally important aim of the project is the creation of a harmonised, documented longitudinal dataset for the four countries


Previous research using cross-sectional analyses of usually small data sets has consistently indicated that friends play a much more important role than family in influencing older parents’ well-being.  This study uses longitudinal data from a large, nationally representative sample of the United Kingdom household population (called Understanding Society), which includes three measures of well-being: reports of mental health, mental distress and life satisfaction.  Consistent with earlier research, frequent face-to-face contact with children is not an important source of parents’ well-being, and this study finds that very frequent face-to-face contact may actually reduce it.  The number of close friends is only weakly related to well-being when there are controls for personality traits, but more interaction with neighbours substantially increases well-being.  These results are found in both a cross-sectional ‘structural equation model’, which controls for personality traits among other time-invariant characteristics, and fixed effect estimation using only variation within persons, thereby controlling for all persistent characteristics of people, including their broader social network, which influence their well-being.  The longitudinal analysis indicates, however, that estimates of the impact of interaction with neighbours that are based fully or partially on between-person variation overstate its impact substantially.  There is also evidence that a mix of contact with children and neighbours is better for parents’ well-being than more exclusive reliance on either of these sources of social interaction.

This event is part of a seminar series:

Trinity Term 2017 Seminar Series: ‘Ageing, Wellbeing and Health’

Trinity Term 2017 Seminar Series ‘Ageing, Wellbeing and Health’ Thursdays at 14:00 – 15:30 Seminar Room: 66 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6PR Convener: Dr Sara Zella This seminar series will be a fascinating journey between theories and concepts of ageing, health and well-being. The talks will underline the mechanisms behind a happy, healthy and long life, ...

Event Details

15 June 2017 14:00 - 15:30


Oxford Institute of Population Ageing

66 Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 6PR