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Geographic Dispersion and the Well-being of the Elderly
by Suzanne M. Bianchi, Kathleen McGarry and Judith A. Seltzer
WP 2010-234
Perhaps the largest problem confronting our aging population is the rising cost of health care, particularly the costs borne by Medicare and Medicaid. A chief component of this expense is long-term care. Much of this care for an unmarried (mostly widowed) mother is currently provided by adult children. The provision of family care depends importantly on the geographic dispersion of family members. In this study we provide preliminary evidence on the geographic dispersion of adult children and their older unmarried mother. Coresidence is less likely for married adult children, those who are parents and the highly educated and more likely for those who are not working or only employed part time and for black and Hispanic adult children. Close proximity is more common for married children who are parents but less common for the highly educated. When we look at transitions between one wave of data collection and the next (a two-year interval), about half of adult children live more than 10 miles away at both points, a little less than one quarter live within 10 miles at both points, and 8 percent are coresident at both points in time. Among the 17 percent who make a transition, about half of the changes result in greater distance between the adult child and mother and half bring them into closer proximity. The needs of both generations are likely reflected in these transitions. In fact, a mother’s health is not strongly related to most transitions and if anything, distance tends to be greater for older mothers relative to those mothers in their early 50s.
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