Relationships Between Young Adults and Their Parents

  • Karen L. FingermanEmail author
  • Yen-Pi Cheng
  • Lauren Tighe
  • Kira S. Birditt
  • Steven Zarit
Part of the National Symposium on Family Issues book series (NSFI, volume 2)


Relationships between young adults and their parents have received considerable media attention in recent years. However, research on relationships between young adult children and their parents during the transition to adulthood are scant. Using data from the Family Exchanges Study and national data sets, we document parental involvement in the lives of young adult children (aged 18–24). Parents and offspring are highly involved in one another’s lives as evident by their phone conversations (more than once a week) and frequent parental financial, practical, and emotional support. This involvement represents an increase from parental involvement 30 years ago. Students are more likely to talk with parents by phone, and nonstudents are more likely to see parents in person. Students received more support from their parents than nonstudents, and that support contributed to their life satisfaction. Parents also use student status as an indicator of the offspring’s potential future success and experience more positive relationships with grown children they view as on target for achieving adult milestones.


Life Satisfaction Relationship Quality Young Adulthood Parental Involvement Parental Support 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Alwin, D. (2010). Demographic changes, fertility, & life expectancy. In K. L. Fingerman, C. Berg, J. Smith, & T. C. Antonucci (Eds.), Handbook of lifespan development. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  2. Aquilino, W. S. (1999). Two views of one relationship: Comparing parents’ and young adult children’s reports of the quality of intergenerational relations. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 858–870. doi: 10.2307/354008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aquilino, W. S. (2006). Family relationships and support systems in emerging adulthood. In J. J. Arnett & J. L. Tanner (Eds.), Emerging adults in America: coming of age in the 21st century (pp. 193–217). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Avery, R., Goldscheider, F. K., & Speare, A. (1992). Feathered nest/Gilded cage: parental income and leaving home during the transition to adulthood. Demography, 29, 375–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Becker, G., Beyene, Y., Newsom, E., & Mayen, N. (2003). Creating continuity through mutual assistance: intergenerational reciprocity in four ethnic groups. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 58, S151–S159. doi: 10.1093/geronb/58.3.S151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Belsky, J., Jaffee, S., Hsieh, K. H., & Silva, P. A. (2001). Child-rearing antecedents of intergenerational relations adulthood: a prospective study. Developmental Psychology, 27, 801–813. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.37.6.801.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berkman, L. F., & Glass, T. (2000). Social integration, social networks, social support, and health. In L. F. Berkman & I. Kawachi (Eds.), Social epidemiology (pp. 137–173). Oxford, N Y: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Birditt, K. S., Fingerman, K. L., & Zarit, S. H. (2010). Adult children’s problems and successes: implications for intergenerational ambivalence. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Science, 65, 145–153. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbp125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Birditt, K. S., Jackey, L. M. H., & Antonucci, T. C. (2009). Longitudinal patterns of negative relationship quality across adulthood. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 64B, 55–64. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbn031.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Birditt, K. S., Miller, L. M., Fingerman, K. L., & Lefkowitz, E. S. (2009). Tensions in the parent and adult child relationship: links to solidarity and ambivalence. Psychology and Aging, 24, 287–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Birditt, K. S., Rott, L., & Fingerman, K. L. (2009). ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’: coping with interpersonal tensions in the parent-child relationship during adulthood. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(6), 769–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brown, S. L., Nesse, R. M., Vinokur, A. D., & Smith, D. M. (2003). Providing support may be more beneficial than receiving it: results from a prospective study of mortality. Psychological Science, 14, 320–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Byers, A. L., Levy, B. R., Allore, H. G., Bruce, M. L., & Kasl, S. V. (2008). When parents matter to their adult children: filial reliance associated with parents’ depressive symptoms. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 63, P33–P40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carr, D. (2004). ‘My daughter has a career – I just raised babies’: women’s intergenerational social comparisons. Social Psychology Quarterly, 67, 132–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Chauvet, M., & Piger, J. (2008). A comparison of the real-time performance of business cycle dating methods. Journal of Business and Economic Statistics, 26, 42–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cohen, S. (2004). Social relationships and health. American Psychologist, 59, 676–684. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.59.8.676.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cohen, S., & Janicki-Deveris, D. (2009). Can we improve our physical health by altering our social networks? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4, 375–378. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6924.2009.01141.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cotten, S. R., McCullough, B. M., & Adams, R. G. (2010). Technological influences on social ties across the lifespan. In K. L. Fingerman, C. Berg, J. Smith, & T. C. Antonucci (Eds.), Handbook of lifespan development. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  19. Eggebeen, D. J. (1992). Family structure and intergenerational exchanges. Research on Aging, 14, 427–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Eggebeen, D. J., & Davey, A. (1998). Do safety nets work? The role of anticipated help in times of need. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 929–950.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Erikson, E. H. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar
  22. Fingerman, K. L. (2000). “We had a nice little chat”: age and generational differences in mothers’ and daughters’ descriptions of enjoyable visits. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 55, 95–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fingerman, K. L. (2003). Mothers and their adult daughters: mixed emotions, enduring bonds. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
  24. Fingerman, K. L. (2009). Weak ties. In H. T. Reis & S. K. Sprecher (Eds.), Encyclopedia of human relationships. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  25. Fingerman, K. L., & Bermann, E. (2000). Applications of family systems theory to the study of adulthood. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 51, 5–29. doi: 10.2190/7TF8-WB3F-TMWG-TT3K.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fingerman, K. L., Cheng, Y., Birditt, K. S., & Zarit, S. H. (2011). Only as happy as the least happy child: multiple grown children’s problems and successes and middle-aged parents’ well-being. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbr086.Google Scholar
  27. Fingerman, K. L., Chen, P. C., Hay, E. L., Cichy, K. E., & Lefkowitz, E. S. (2006). Ambivalent reactions in the parent and offspring relationship. Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 61B, 152–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Fingerman, K. L., & Hay, E. L. (2004). Intergenerational ambivalence in the context of the larger social network. In K. Pillemer & K. Leuscher (Eds.), Intergenerational ambivalence: new perspectives on parent-child relations in later life (pp. 133–152). Amsterdam: Elsevier/JAI.Google Scholar
  29. Fingerman, K. L., Hay, E. L., & Birditt, K. S. (2004). The best of ties, the worst of ties: close, problematic, and ambivalent social relationships. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 792–808. doi: 10.1111/j.0022-2445.2004.00053.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fingerman, K. L., Hay, E. L., Kamp Dush, C. M., Cichy, K. E., & Hosterman, S. J. (2007). Parents’ and offspring’s perceptions of change and continuity when parents experience the transition to old age. Advances in Life Course Research, 12, 275–306. doi: 10.1016/S1040-2608(07)12010-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fingerman, K. L., Miller, L. M., Birditt, K. S., & Zarit, S. H. (2009). Giving to the good and the needy: parental support of grown children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, 1220–1233. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2009.00665.x. PMC: 167414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Fingerman, K. L., Pitzer, L. M., Chan, W., Birditt, K. S., Franks, M. M., & Zarit, S. (2010). Who gets what and why: help middle-aged adults provide to parents and grown children. Journal of Gerontology: Social Science, 66B, 87–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Fingerman, K. L., Pitzer, L. M., Lefkowitz, E. S., Birditt, K. S., & Mroczek, D. (2008). Ambivalent relationship qualities between adults and their parents: Implications for both parties’ well-being. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 63B, P362–P371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Fingerman, K. L., Whiteman, S. D., & Dotterer, A. M. (2009). Mother-child relationships in adolescence and old age. In H. T. Reis & S. K. Sprecher (Eds.), Encyclopedia of human relationships. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  35. Furstenberg, F. F., Jr. (2010). On a new schedule: transitions to adulthood and family change. Future of the Child, 20, 67–87. doi: 10.1353/foc.0.0038.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Giarrusso, R., Silterstein, M., Gans, D., & Bengtson, V. L. (2005). Aging parents and adult children: new perspectives on intergenerational relationships. In M. L. Johnson, V. L. Bengtson, P. G. Coleman, & T. B. L. Kirkwood (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of age and ageing (pp. 413–421). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Goldscheider, F. K. (1997). Recent changes in U.S. young adult living arrangements in comparative perspective. Journal of Family Issues, 18, 708–724.Google Scholar
  38. Greenfield, E. A., & Marks, N. F. (2006). Linked lives: adult children’s problems and their parents’ psychological and relational well-being. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 442–454. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2006.00263.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hay, E. L., Fingerman, K. L., & Lefkowitz, E. S. (2008). The worries adult children and their parents experience for one another. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 67, 101–127. doi: 10.2190/AG.67.2.a.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. House, J. S. (2010). Americans’ Changing Lives: Waves I, II, III, and IV, 1986, 1989, 1994, and 2002 [Computer file and code book]. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR04690-v5). doi: 10.3886/ICPSR04690
  41. Hulbert, A. (2003). Raising America: experts, parents, and a century of advice about children. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.Google Scholar
  42. Laursen, B., Coy, K. C., & Collins, W. A. (1998). Reconsidering changes in parent-child conflict across adolescence: a meta-analysis. Child Development, 69, 817–832.Google Scholar
  43. Lawton, L., Silverstein, M., & Bengtson, V. (1994). Affection, social contact, and geographic distance between adult children and their parents. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 56, 57–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lefkowitz, E. S., & Fingerman, K. L. (2003). Positive and negative emotional feelings and behaviors in mother-daughter ties in late life. Journal of Family Psychology, 17, 607–617. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.17.4.607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lin, G., & Rogerson, P. A. (1995). Elderly parents and the geographic availability of their adult children. Research on Aging, 17, 303–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Longino, C. F. (2001). Geographical distribution and migration. In R. H. Binstock & L. George (Eds.), Handbook of aging and the social sciences (5th ed., pp. 103–124). New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  47. Lowenstein, A. (2007). Solidarity-conflict and ambivalence: testing two conceptual frameworks and their impact on quality of life for older family members. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 62B, S100–S107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lowenstein, A., & Daatland, S. O. (2006). Filial norms and family support in a comparative cross-national context: evidence from the OASIS study. Ageing & Society, 26, 203–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Maisel, N. C., & Gable, S. L. (2009). The paradox of received social support: the importance of responsiveness. Psychological Science, 20, 928–932.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Mandemakers, J. J., & Dykstra, P. A. (2008). Discrepancies in parent’s and adult child’s reports of support and contact. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 495–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. McHale, S. M., Crouter, A. C., & Whiteman, S. D. (2003). The family contexts of gender development in childhood and adolescence. Social Development, 12, 125–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. McHale, S. M., Whiteman, S. D., Kim, J., & Crouter, A. C. (2007). Characteristics and correlates of sibling relationships in African American families. Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 227–235. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.21.2.22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Milkie, M. A., Bierman, A., & Schieman, S. (2008). How adult children influence older parents’ mental health: integrating stress-process and life course perspectives. Social Psychology Quarterly, 71, 86–105. doi: 10.1177/019027250807100109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. National Bureau of Economic Research. (2010). US business cycle expansions and contractions. Accessed 9 Sept 2010.
  55. National Center for Education Statistics. (2009). Digest of education statistics: 2009 (Table 200).
  56. Newman, K., & Aptekar, S. (2006, August). Sticking around: delayed departure from the parental nest Western Europe. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania, MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood policy brief.Google Scholar
  57. Pennsylvania State Data Center. (2001). Research brief: Standards for defining metropolitan statistical areas announced. Harrisburg, PA: Institute of State and Regional Affairs.Google Scholar
  58. Pillemer, K., & Suitor, J. J. (1991). “Will I ever escape my child’s problems?” Effects of adult children’s problems on elderly parents. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53, 585–594.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Pillemer, K., Suitor, J. J., Mock, S. E., Sabir, M., Pardo, T. B., & Sechrist, J. (2007). Capturing the complexity of intergenerational relations: Exploring ambivalence within later-life families. Journal of Social Issues, 63, 775–791.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Rossi, A. S., & Rossi, P. H. (1990). Of human-bonding: parent-child relations across the life course. New York, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  61. Ryff, C. D., Lee, Y. H., Essex, M. J., & Schmutte, P. S. (1994). My children and me: midlife evaluations of grown children and self. Psychology and Aging, 9, 195–205. doi: 10.1037/0882-7974.9.2.195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Sayer, L. C., Bianchi, S. M., & Robinson, J. R. (2004). Are parents investing less in children? Trends in mothers’ and fathers’ time with children. American Journal of Sociology, 110, 1–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Schoeni, R. F. (1997). Private interhousehold transfers of money and time: new empirical evidence. Review of Income and Wealth, 43, 423–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Shanahan, L., McHale, S. M., Crouter, A. C., & Osgood, D. W. (2007). Warmth with mothers and fathers form middle childhood to late adolescence: within and between-families comparisons. Developmental Psychology, 43, 551–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Small, M. L., Morgan, N., Abar, C., & Maggs, J. L. (2011). Protective effects of parent-college student communication during the first semester of college. Journal of American College Health, 59(6), 547–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Son, J., Erno, A., Shea, D. G., Femia, E. E., Zarit, S. H., & Stephens, M. A. P. (2007). The caregiver stress process and health outcomes. Journal of Aging and Health, 19, 871–887. doi: 10.1177/0898264307308568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Suitor, J. J., Sechrist, J., & Pillemer, K. (2007). When mothers have favorites: conditions under which mothers differentiate among their adult children. Canadian Journal on Aging, 26, 85–100. doi: 10.3138/cja.26.2.085.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Swartz, T. T. (2009). Intergenerational family relations in adulthood: patterns, variations, and implications in the contemporary United States. Annual Review of Sociology, 35, 191–212. doi: 10.1146/annurev.soc.34.040507.134615.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Thoma, M. (2008). When did the recession begin? Economics. Accessed 29 Aug 2009.
  70. Thornton, A., Orbuch, T. L., & Axinn, W. G. (1995). Parent–child relationships during the transitions to adulthood. Journal of Family Issues, 16, 538–564.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Uehara, E. S. (1994). The influence of the social network’s ‘second-order zone’ on social support mobilization: a case example. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 11, 277–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Umberson, D. (1992). Relationships between adult children and their parents: psychological consequences for both generations. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54, 664–674. doi: 10.2307/353252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. U.S. Census Bureau. (2009). Young adults living at home: 1960 to present (Table AD-1).
  74. Vaux, A. (1988). Social support: theory, research, and intervention. New York, NY: Praeger.Google Scholar
  75. Whiteman, S. D., McHale, S. M., & Crouter, A. C. (2003). What parents learn from experience: the first child as a first draft? Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 608–621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Willson, A. E., Shuey, K. M., & Elder, G. H., Jr. (2003). Ambivalence in the relationship of adult children to aging parents and in-laws. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 1055–1072. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2003.01055.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Willson, A. E., Shuey, K. M., Elder, G. H., Jr., & Wickrama, K. A. S. (2006). Ambivalence in mother-adult child relations: a dyadic analysis. Social Psychology Quarterly, 69, 235–252. doi: 10.1177/019027250606900302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Zarit, S. H., & Eggebeen, D. J. (2002). Parent-child relationship in adulthood and later years. In M. H. Bornstein (Ed.), Handbook of parenting: children and parenting (2nd ed., pp. 135–161). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  79. Zarit, S. H., Reever, K. E., & Bach-Peterson, J. (1980). Relatives of the impaired elderly: correlates of feelings of burden. The Gerontologist, 20, 649–655.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karen L. Fingerman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Yen-Pi Cheng
    • 1
  • Lauren Tighe
    • 2
  • Kira S. Birditt
    • 3
  • Steven Zarit
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Human Development and Family StudiesUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Social ResearchUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Institute for Social ResearchUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  4. 4.Department of Human Development and Family StudiesThe Pennsylvania State UniversityState CollegeUSA

Personalised recommendations