Elderly people who live alone are more pessimistic and less autonomous

The Santander IsFamily Chair at UIC Barcelona presented a report this Wednesday entitled “Elderly parents, generations and family solidarity. A multi-level analysis of the Spanish context”, carried out by Rita Cavallotti and Francesco Marcaletti, researchers for the Chair.

Among the conclusions drawn from the report, it has been highlighted that elderly people who live alone see themselves as older than they are and as having a worse state of health. They are less active, more pessimistic and are more dissatisfied with their lives. Moreover, these people also tend to have not such a close family or friendship network, have less intense or more infrequent exchanges and they have a very low social capital. Consequently, the researchers claim in their report that “living alone amplifies the feeling of being elderly and it is more heavily associated with the risk of losing personal autonomy”. 

A second group is made up of people who live with their partner and with their children. In these cases, although this circumstance amplifies intergenerational solidarity on a functional level (support) and on a regulatory level (links), the fact that they live the daily relationship with their children more intensely, makes them see themselves as older, they are less active and they on average tend to have a higher rate of illnesses. 

Finally, those people living with their partner without children in the family home feel the youngest, have the best state of health, the highest level of income and a more active lifestyle. This collective always expresses the most positive feelings, is most satisfied and has the highest family social capital (i.e. support, trust and cooperation between the family members). This is in spite of the fact that this group does not have the most extensive family or friendship network nor the highest level of support exchanges. 

Francesco Marcaletti highlights from the data drawn from the study that in all cases, “Nevertheless, the study shows that the family members occupy, without a doubt, the top spot in the network of people with whom the elderly person maintains a special and important bond and on whom they can count if in need. This reinforces the concept of intergenerational family solidarity”. 

The concept of “intergenerational family solidarity” is based on six factors which measure the interaction between parents and children from different viewpoints: attachment, mutual support, consensus, exchange of resources, regulatory solidarity (i.e. the perception of having a duty of care) and the structure of interactional opportunities.The questionnaire carried out on more than 600 people, aged between 64 and 75 years, had 99 questions which reviewed these six topics. 

The survey also explored specific aspects such as the family relationship, the attitude towards older generations, memory and gratitude, health and well-being, free time, the use of ICT, the perception of old age or the participation in socio-political activities. This is the only survey carried out in Spain based on a sample of the national population (sampled ad hoc) on the topic of family intergenerational solidarity. 

The report was presented by its authors at the International Symposium: "Elderly parents, generations and family intergenerational solidarity organised by the Santander IsFamily Chair with the support of Santander Universities. 

At the same symposium, the results of the survey “I won’t retire” conducted in Italy on over 900 people were presented. The report, which is similar to the Spanish one, studied active ageing in Italian society. The report was presented by its authors Giovanna Rossi, director of the University Centre for Family Studies and Research at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, and Donatella Bramanti, full professor in Sociology at the same university. 

The symposium included topics related to new research lines which made reference to family intergenerational solidarity, interpreted in the light of the results of the surveys.

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Rita Cavallotti and Francesco Marcaletti present the report “Elderly parents, generations and family solidarity. A multi-level analysis of the Spanish context”