Family Relationships in Later Life


Edited by: Timothy H. Brubaker

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  • Other Recent Volumes in the SAGE Focus Editions

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    • Family Relationships in Later Life (Second Edition) Timothy H. Brubaker
    • Organizational Theory and Inquiry Yvonna S. Lincoln
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    • Debates on Evaluation Marvin C. Alkin
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    This book is dedicated to Puffin — a family member who is ageless.


    Since the publication of the first edition (1983), research on some aspects of later-life family relationships has increased. Family relationships of older people are an important concern to social gerontologists and family scholars. Later-life family relationships are crucial to the designs and programs developed by researchers and practitioners. Family members of various ages are actively involved in older persons’ family networks. Older people who live independently and need little assistance have frequent contact with family members. Family members assist the older relatives who need assistance and who live in the community, as well as those who live in an institutionalized setting. In short, the later-life families are vital. This vitality contributes to the lives of older people and, at the same time, older persons enrich the lives of other family members.

    This book is directed to researchers and practitioners in family studies and gerontology. Its premise is the assumption that attention to later-life family relationships is important to the development of reliable research designs, as well as to the establishment of service delivery systems that meet the needs of older persons and their families. One primary objective of this volume is to provide a review of research on family relationships in later life. In many cases, new research or theory is presented.

    Within recent years, research has been directed toward specific family relationships of older people. Dyadic relationships such as husband-wife and intergenerational relationships including elderly parent-adult child and grandparent-grandchild have been examined. Other members (e.g., siblings, family caregivers, fictive kin) of the later-life family network have received attention. Research has focused on issues related to the older persons’ life events and family situations (e.g., retirement, sexuality, sex roles, widowhood, divorce, abuse, and minority issues) that may influence family interaction in the later years. The chapters discuss these later-life family relationships and situations to provide information for future research directed toward older persons and their families.

    The second primary objective is to suggest practice and policy implications of the research. Programs and policy directed toward older people and their families can be grounded in the family relationships identified by the research. Services and policies can enhance and compliment older persons’ family relationships. Knowledge of the various family relationships such as the husband-wife, adult child, sibling, and grandparent relationships is necessary to build services and policies that strengthen these relationships. For many older persons, the strength of their families is evidenced by the families’ lengthy history. Consequently, practice and policy may want to recognize the family history of older clients. Strong families complement services to older persons. One hopes that services and policies complement strong families.

    From the perspectives of research and practice, each chapter focuses on one aspect of later-life family relationships. A thorough review of the literature is presented, and then, either new research or suggestions for applying this information to practice is discussed. As a collection of chapters, this volume provides a research-based description of the family relationships of older persons.

    While the contributors to this volume represent a variety of disciplines, their attention is directed toward the family relationships of older people. The contributors include sociologists, psychologists, social workers, gerontologists, and family studies specialists. Their emphases reflect theory, research, and practice. It is hoped that this blend of disciplines and emphases will bridge the gaps between theory, research, and practice.

    This volume is organized into three sections. Part I focuses on specific family relationships (e.g., husband-wife, parent-child, sibling, grandparent) of older people. Part II addresses a number of issues (sexuality, sex roles, widowhood, abuse, minority family) related to later-life families. Finally, Part III considers older persons’ family relationships and the implications for the development of practice and policy directed toward older persons.

    Older persons’ family relationships are alive and well. Neither the importance of the family to older persons nor the reciprocity between older and younger generations can be minimized. Later-life families have a potential for enhancing family relationships at various stages of the family life cycle. Understanding family relationships in later life is useful to both family and gerontological researchers and practitioners.


    The development of a book is very similar to the navigation of a vessel through a turbulent storm. The journey begins with heightened anticipation that soon gives way to the details of guiding and sailing the vessel. Then, the excitement returns when the vessel arrives safely at its destination. Most vessels have a crew to whom the drudgery is assigned. This book navigated through heightened anticipation, detailed organization, and development. Now, it is done and it is the crew who helped to bring the book to completion.

    First, appreciation is expressed to each contributor. Their willingness to prepare their chapters and make revisions is admirable. The contributors’ patience and understanding in the development of this volume are appreciated.

    The second group of individuals deserve special appreciation. These individuals worked on the tedious tasks associated with references, format, and other details. Mary Tharp was involved in every phase of the project, and it would not have been completed without her. Her pleasant approach and willingness to make changes are commendable. The laborious task of compiling a combined reference list was expertly handled by Julie Smith. She meticulously checked every reference. Both of these individuals contributed enormously to this project. Jennifer Bollinger, Samantha Inskeep, and Robin Heltzel professionally performed many tasks associated with the project. To each, I am grateful.

    Finally, appreciation is expressed to the Family and Child Studies Center and the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Miami University. In many ways, these units facilitated completion of this project.

    To all who participated in this project, we have, at last, completed our journey.

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    About the Contributors

    LINDA ADE-RIDDER graduated with a degree in marriage and family therapy in the Interdivisional Program between sociology and home and family life from the Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. She is Associate Professor of Individual and Family Studies, an adjunct of Women's Studies, and is an associate of the Family and Child Studies Center at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Her research interests are focused around women's roles in the family, including women in long-term marriages, sexuality, parenting, and family violence.

    CHARLES M. BARRESI is Professor of Sociology and Senior Fellow, Institute for Life-Span Development and Gerontology at the University of Akron. He has published widely in social gerontology and is co-editor of Ethnic Dimensions of Aging (Springer Publishing Co., 1987). His recent areas of interest are in ethnogerontology, including family caregiving and long-term care. He is currently co-editing a book on ethnicity and long-term care.

    VERN L. BENGTSON is Director of the Andrus Center's Gerontology Research Institute and Professor of Sociology at the University of Southern California. He received his B.A. at North Park College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He directs a Longitudinal Study of Three-Generation Families at USC as well as continuing research on the sociology of the life course, socialization, ethnicity, and aging. His publications include The Social Psychology of Aging (1973), Youth, Generations, and Social Change (with Robert Laufer, 1974), Grandparenthood (with Joan Robertson, 1985), The Measurement of Intergenerational Relations (with David Mangen and Pierre Landry, 1988), Emergent Theories of Aging (with James Birren, 1988), and The Course of Later Life (with K. Warner Schaie, 1989) as well as over 100 papers in professional journals and books. He is Past Chair of the American Sociological Association's Section on Aging, and is President-Elect of the Gerontological Society of America. He has been a member of review panels for NIMH and NIA; he has twice won the Reuben Hill Award for outstanding research and theory on the family, presented by the National Council on Family Relations. He most recently was awarded a MERIT award from the National Institute on Aging for his Longitudinal Study of Three-Generation Families project.

    ELLIE BRUBAKER is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Her research has been published in a number of journals, such as Journal of Gerontological Social Work, Gerontology and Geriatrics Education, and American Behavioral Scientist. She is the author of Working with the Elderly: A Social Systems Approach. Her research interests are in the areas of social service delivery to older families.

    TIMOTHY H. BRUBAKER is Professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences and is Director of the Family and Child Studies Center at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. His books include Family Relationships in Later Life (edited, 1983), Family Caregivers and Dependent Elderly (coauthored, 1984), Later Life Families (1985), Aging, Health and Family (edited, 1987), and Families in Rural America (coedited, 1988). His research has been published in a number of scholarly journals, and he has contributed chapters to many books. Currently, he is editor of Family Relations, published by the National Council on Family Relations.

    VICTOR G. CICIRELLI is Professor of Development and Aging Psychology in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University. His research interests include parent-child relationships in later life, sibling relationships, and family support of the elderly. In addition to numerous articles and book chapters, he is the author of the book Helping Elderly Parents: Role of Adult Children.

    PATRICIA L. EVANS is Coordinator of the Human Services Degree Program, which she designed and implemented at Niagara County Community College, Sanborn, NY. She is also President and founder of Niagara Hospice, Inc. She received her M.S. from the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, State University of New York at Buffalo, and is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at that university. Her academic interests are in the areas of widowhood and hospice care.

    MARY ANNE GORMAN is Director of Residence Services at The Renaissance, Olmstead Township, Ohio. Her professional interests and research are in the area of older family caregiving and elderhostels.

    GLORIA D. HEINEMANN is Director of the Interdisciplinary Team Training in Geriatrics (ITTG) Program at the Buffalo Veterans Administration Medical Center and a faculty member in the departments of Medicine and Social and Preventive Medicine, School of Medicine, State University of New York at Buffalo. Dr. Heinemann is also Past President of the New York State Association of Gerontological Educators (SAGE). Her research interests include widowhood and the team approach to health care. She received her Ph.D. from the Department of Sociology, University of Illinois at Chicago.

    MICHELE HIESTAND is Coordinator of Research and Education for the Southwestern Ohio Gerontology Institute, Maple Knoll Village, Cincinnati, Ohio. Her research and professional interests are in the areas of family caregiving and mother-daughter relationships in later life.

    KIMBERLY HUNT is a graduate of the Sociology Department at the University of Akron, where she also received a degree in social work. She is presently employed as a medical/surgical social worker at Aultman Hospital in Canton, Ohio, where she is responsible for discharge planning for elderly patients. Her main areas of interest in gerontology are in family, service utilization, and ethnic/minority issues.

    PAT M. KEITH is Professor of Sociology at Iowa State University, where she conducts research in gender roles and aging. She has recently published The Unmarried in Later Life (Praeger).

    JOSEPH KUYPERS is Professor of Social Work at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He is co-author (with Henry Maas) of From Thirty to Seventy (1974) and has published numerous articles in the areas of crisis intervention, adult life cycle development, and competence. His current research and writing focus on crisis and the older family.

    ROBERT A. LEWIS is Professor in the Department of Child Development and Family Studies at Purdue University. Dr. Lewis has edited four books, Assessing Marriage: New Behavioral Approaches, Men in Difficult Times, Men in Families, and Men's Changing Roles in Families, and has published more than 50 articles in journals, such as Journal of Marriage and the Family, Family Process, The International Journal of Sociology of the Family, The Journal of Sex, and The Archives of Sexual Behavior.

    SHIRLEY A. LOCKERY is Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work and Associate Director in the University Center on Aging at San Diego State University. She has published numerous book chapters and articles in professional journals.

    JANIE K. LONG is a Ph.D. candidate at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia. Her research interests include the role of friendship across adulthood, working with the elderly and their families in clinical settings, and social provisions in relationships with family and friends. She is currently working as a marriage and family therapist intern at Roanoke Valley Psychiatric Center. She is co-author of “The Parental Role and Parent-Child Relationship Provisions” in Aging Parents and Adult Children.

    JAY A. MANCINI is Professor of Family Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Stale University, Blacksburg, VA. His work has appeared in Journal of Marriage and the Family, Family Relations, and Independent Aging: Family and Social Systems Perspectives. He is editor of Aging Parents and Adult Children.

    K. MICHAEL PEDDECORD is Associate Professor in the Division of Health Service Administration at San Diego State University. He has published numerous articles in professional journals.

    KAREN A. ROBERTO is Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Gerontology Program at the University of Northern Colorado. Her research focuses on family and friend relationships in later life and the psychosocial effects of chronic health problems facing older women.

    JEAN PEARSON SCOTT is Associate Professor and Associate Chair for Graduate Studies in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas. Her research interests focus mainly on family and friend support networks of older adults and the interface of informal and formal support systems. Recent research articles have addressed family caregiving during chronic illness, older women's issues, rural aging, and later-life marriage.

    E. PERCIL STANFORD is Professor and Director of the University Center on Aging at San Diego State University. His major areas of interest include education and training in gerontology, retirement, job satisfaction, minority aging, service delivery, and policy development. His scholarly publications include books, several book chapters, and numerous articles in professional journals.

    SUZANNE K. STEINMETZ, Ph.D, is Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Indiana. She received her doctorate in sociology from Case Western Reserve University. She was the coeditor with Murray Straus of Violence in the Family (1974), author of Cycle of Violence: Assertive, Aggressive, and Abusive Family Interaction (1977), coauthor with Murray Straus and Richard Gelles of Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the American Family (1980), and coeditor with Marvin Sussman of Handbook of Marriage and the Family (1986), in addition to over 75 other publications. As an outgrowth of her research on elder abuse, she received federal funding to establish a Clearinghouse on Abuse and Neglect of the Elderly and produce a documentary film on stress and abuse in informal caregiving families, “After the Ball.”

    ROBBYN R. WACKER is a student in the Department of Sociology at Iowa State University. Her research interests include health care utilization, later life families, and aging policy. She is currently a Midwest Council for Social Research on Aging predoctoral fellow.

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