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Complex Families and Late-Life Outcomes Among Elderly Persons: Disability, Institutionalization, and Longevity

Authors


  • This article was edited by Deborah S. Carr.

Department of Medicine and Health Policy Institute, Medical College of Wisconsin, 8701 Watertown Plank Rd., Milwaukee, WI 53226 (lpezzin@mcw.edu).

Abstract

The authors examined the effects of marital status and family structure on disability, institutionalization, and longevity for a nationally representative sample of elderly persons using Gompertz duration models applied to longitudinal data from 3 cohorts of the Health and Retirement Study (N = 11,481). They found that parents with only stepchildren have worse outcomes than parents with only biological children. Elderly mothers with only stepchildren become disabled and institutionalized sooner, and elderly men with only stepchildren have shorter longevity relative to their counterparts with only biological children. The effect of membership in a blended family differs by gender. Relative to those with only biological children, women in blended families have greater longevity and become disabled later, whereas men in blended families have reduced longevity. The findings indicate that changing marital patterns and increased complexity in family life have adverse effects on late-life health outcomes.

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