Health Shocks and Changes in Spatial Proximity between Parents and Children

Adriana Reyes
Assistant Professor of Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell University

Background: Over half of caregivers who provide substantial help to older adults are adult children. However, family caregiving is facilitated by relatively close geographic proximity, especially because children provide an average of 77 hours of assistance a month. Living near children enables a wide range of support, and therefore older adults may migrate to be closer to children in response to or in anticipation of health declines. Previous research has found that when adult children move, they are more likely to choose locations close to their parents compared to other locations, especially when parents are very old. Similarly, elderly adults’ migration patterns are motivated by a desire for close geographic proximity to their children. Recent estimates suggest that a majority of parents and children live near each other, especially those with fewer socioeconomic resources. Yet, the number of older adults without an adult child nearby is projected to increase dramatically over the next two decades. As many rural areas experience an out-migration of young people and declining economic opportunities, the ability of older adults to rely on children for caregiving may be compromised in these areas. We know that children play a significant role in caring for their aging parents; however, we know less about how health shocks associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions may alter the geographic location of children and parents. Building on this context, this project will pursue two specific aims:

Aim 1: Construct a panel dataset of spatial proximity between parents and their adult children. The data will document, at each wave, the distance between parents and their adult children and changes across waves.
Aim 2: Identify the correlates of changes in proximity and co-residence. The project will examine how changes in proximity evolve relative to changes in health, such as an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.