A new study from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has found that only children are more likely to care for their parents in old age than children with siblings.
The study, published in Population Space and Place, analysed different sizes of families in Germany, examining the distance that children lived from their parents’ homes and their relationships with their parents.
The authors found that only children are more likely than children with siblings to share a household with or live at close distance from ageing parents, particularly when parents suffer from poor health. The findings suggest that only children respond more strongly to parental need, and this is likely to compel them to change their living arrangements in order to support the care of their parents.
Closer geographic proximity between parents and children tends to facilitate adult children’s provision of care and to increase the level of support available to ageing parents.
With the birth rate in many developed European countries declining, the study has implications for the future levels of elderly care provided by the state and how governments might support only children with elderly parents. It also indicates how parent-child relationships of different-sized families are likely to develop as parents enter old age.
Dr Thijs van den Broek of the Department of Social Policy at LSE and one of the co-authors of the study, said: “Our findings show that only children are more likely to step up when their parents are in need of care than children with siblings.
“In a family with one child, there is evidence of this heightened sense of responsibility towards parents. This contrasts with the lower urgency displayed by children with siblings to provide care to their parents and live as closely to them.”