Overall, estrangement is quite common, national study finds

Adult children are more than four times more likely to be estranged from their father than their mother, according to a new long-term national study.

The research showed that 6% of adult children in the study reported a period of estrangement from their mother, compared to 26% who said they had been estranged from their father.

But for most adult children, the estrangement is only temporary – 81% of estrangements with mothers end, as do 69% of those with fathers.

According to Rin Reczek, lead author of the study and professor of sociology at Ohio State University.

“One of the messages from this study is that estrangement between adult children and their parents is quite common, especially with fathers,” Reczek said. “But those estrangements tend to end eventually. »

Reczek conducted the study with Lawrence Stacey, a graduate student from Ohio State, and Mieke Beth Thomeer from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Their results were recently published in the Marriage and Family Diary.

The parents in this study had participated in the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which is a nationally representative sample of men and women aged 14 to 22 in 1979. They were interviewed regularly from 1979 to 2018.

The researchers were able to link this data from parents to a sample of their children who participated in the NLSY’s Children and Young Adults Supplement.

With these two data sets, researchers were able to track child estrangement in 8,495 mother-child relationships and 8,119 father-child relationships. From 1994 to 2018, adult children reported various indicators of parent-child contact and closeness. Those who had no or very little contact with a parent and said their relationship was not close were counted as distant.

The results showed that a variety of factors were linked to estrangement, including gender, race and ethnicity, and sexuality, Reczek said.

Daughters were 22% more likely than sons to be separated from their father, but slightly less likely than sons to be separated from their mother.

“Thus, daughters are more likely to keep in touch with their mother and sons were more likely to keep in touch with their father,” Reczek said.

Yet overall, children were less likely to be cut off from their mothers.

“Mothers are the primary caregivers of children in our society, so it makes sense that they are more likely to stay close to their children,” Reczek said.

Black adult children were 27% less likely to be estranged from their mother than white adult children, consistent with research showing that black mothers are a unique and stable feature of family life in the United States.

But, in contrast, black and Latino adults are more likely to report a distant relationship with their father than white adults.

Also demonstrating the key role that mothers play in the lives of their children, the results showed that gay, lesbian and bisexual children were no more likely to be estranged from their mothers than heterosexuals. But gay and lesbian children were 86% more likely to report a separation from their father than heterosexuals, and bisexuals were nearly three times more likely to report a separated relationship from their father.

For all adult children in the study, separations from a parent often occurred shortly after the children became adults: the average age at which children first separated from their mother was 26 years old and their father, 23 years old.

“Early adulthood is full of transitions such as college, new jobs, marriage, parenthood, all of which can contribute to estrangement or, in some cases, protect against it,” said Reczek.

For example, adult children who had been married and divorced were more likely to be separated than never-married adults.

Having children of their own reduced the risk of an adult child becoming estranged from their father, but not from their mother.

But it was not just the characteristics of adult children that were linked to remoteness. The results showed that when parents were older, had jobs, and fathers had higher levels of education, they were less likely to separate from their adult children.

“It may be that when parents are working and fathers are highly educated, they can provide more support for their adult children and that puts less strain on parent-child bonds,” Reczek said.

Adult children may be less likely to be estranged from older parents because parents need care for which children feel responsible.

Although there were differences in gender, race/ethnicity and sexuality related to estrangement, the results showed that there were no such patterns in which parents and children came together more late.

“We cannot tell from this data why the separations ended and whether these relationships were permanent after they got back together,” Reczek said.

“But it was surprising to me how many separations ended. »

Reczek said the team is continuing their research into estrangement with a study examining how it can affect health and an interview project with people estranged from family.

The study was supported by grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute on Aging.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.