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OnderzoekUrban and Regional Studies InstitutePopulation Research Centre

Intergenerational Proximity and Well-Being of Older Parents in the Netherlands

Principal researcher

Marieke van der Pers

Type of research

PhD research


Professor Clara H. Mulder


Healthy Ageing: Population and Society (HAPS)

Nardi Steverink

Summary of the project


The demand for personal and practical support for the older population will increase in the near future as a result of an increasing share of elderly. Decreasing fertility, changes in family formation processes, globalisation and urbanisation will make older persons more likely to live without a partner, to have few children, and possibly to live at a greater geographic distance from them. A combination of these processes makes it less likely for older persons to have a assistance partner or children around who can assist them in for various needs that go together with ageing. At the same time, current economic global developments force governments to cut costs on various public expenditures, putting more pressure on individual responsibilities and informal care resources to uphold well-being at older ages.

The natural bond between family members goes along with feelings of responsibility which make children to respond promptly to the increased needs of their parents (Broese van Groenou, 1995). Various studies have shown that with increasing health restrictions the role of the family, especially children, regarding personal and practical support exchange becomes more salient (Bengtson, 2001; Komter & Vollebergh, 2002; Steverink , 2002; Sundström, Johansson, & Hassing, 2002; Van Tilburg, 1995) . A dult children, and daughters in particular, are more likely than any other group of potential caregivers to provide personal and practical support to older persons (Komter & Vollebergh, 2002; Mulder & Van der Meer, 2009; Spitze & Logan, 1990).

Moreover, distance has shown to be the strongest predictor of support exchange among family members (Bloem, Van Tilburg, & Thomése, 2008; Bordone, 2009; Greenwell & Bengtson, 1997; Hank, 2007; Hank & Buber, 2009; Lawton, Silverstein, & Bengtson, 1994; Mulder & Van der Meer, 2009; Rogerson, Burr, & Lin, 1997; Van Tilburg, Broese van Groenou, & Thomése, 1995) for the reason that geographic proximity enables face-to-face interaction, the exchange of instrumental support and emotional intimacy (Lawton, Silverstein et al. 1994).

For the Netherlands  Knijn and Liefbroer (2006) have shown that a distance of over five kilometres makes a great difference for the level of instrumental support exchange. Also, having ‘someone to turn to’ is considered to contribute to feelings of security among older persons (Breheny & Stephens, 2009; Dunér & Nordström, 2007; Mercier, Paulson, & Morris, 1988) . And, Swedish elderly older parents who live within walking distance from at least one adult child reported that the feeling of having someone to consult or discuss with when the need arises to be is important (Hjälm, 2011).

From these empirical findings one would suggest that individual well-being profits from intergenerational proximity which inspires us to investigate how and to what extent -living close to- adult children actually contributes to well-being of older persons. We argue that the presence of children may partly substitute the lost resources that go together with ageing. Subsequently, we expect intergenerational proximity to strengthen the function children have simply because distance enhances interaction.

Research questions

  • What does intergenerational proximity between parents and their adult children look like in the Netherlands? to what extent can regional characteristics explain the regional variation in intergenerational proximity in the Netherlands?
  • To what extent does well-being of older residents of the Netherlands benefit from having adult children and living in close proximity to them?
  • To what extent does intergenerational proximity influence the propensity to move at old age?

  • Can an adjustment of geographic proximity between older parents and their adult children be part of the strategy of elderly to anticipate on future health needs?

Theoretical framework

The Social Production Function (SPF) theory (Ormel, Lindenberg et al. 1997; Steverink, Lindenberg et al. 1998; Ormel, Lindenberg et al. 1999) , the typology of elderly migration (Longino, Jackson et al. 1991) and social network theory will be the core theories out of which the conceptual model will be developed. The life course approach will be integrated in the research since individual behaviour can only be understood when placed in its specific context. By looking at the characteristics of the core relationships of individual’s social network, the research entails the socio-cultural context (macro and meso level) in which people live. For doing so, a life-course perspective will be adopted since life course events of individuals have strong effects on all domains of life. For example, residential relocation can be a consequence of retirement, death of a spouse or disability. In order to get insight in the mechanisms that take place, the focus of the research will be laid on the relation and interactions of geographic proximity between family members, individual health status and the influence of residential moves over the life course on these phenomena. All together the research potentially consists four parts which each have their particular approach and method.

Data and Methods

For the various analyses it would be an opportunity to use longitudinal micro data that is collected and owned by the Netherlands Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). A very appropriate dataset to do so is the Social Statistical Database (SSD), a register-based dataset based on municipal population registers and other registers, accessible for research. Using the SSD data, it will be possible to trace all the individual residential locations and relocations of all people living in the Netherlands. The record linkage between parents and adult children allows for the investigation of geographic distance between them over time. Register data enables to control for various time varying demographic and socioeconomic determinants. Since health aspects are not covered by register data, it would be a unique opportunity to use the data from the POLS (quality of life) survey in the research as well. This annual survey is cross-sectional, nationally representative and covers all aspects that deal with the quality of life. The survey has a special section on health out of which various relevant measurements of health can be obtained. i.e. perceived health, physical disabilities and chronic diseases.


  • Van der Pers, M. and C.H. Mulder (2013). 'The Regional Dimension of Intergenerational Proximity in the Netherlands'. Population Space and Place, Volume 19, Issue 5, pages 505–521. DOI: 10.1002/psp.1729

Submitted to an international journal

  • Van der Pers, M., C.H. Mulder and N. Steverink. 'Geographic Proximity of Adult Children and the Well-Being of Older Persons'.
  • Van der Pers, M., E.U.B. Kibele, C.H.Mulder. ' Intergenerational Proximity and The Residential Relocation of Older People to Care Institutions and Elsewhere '

Work in Progress

  • Van der Pers, M., E.U.B. Kibele, C.H.Mulder. ' Health and Older People Moving Close to Their Children and Elsewhere '


  • March 2011: PAA Washington D.C. Session 905, "Family Ties in Later Life: Contact, Care, and Relationships", Paper "The Geographic Dimension of Intergenerational Proximity in the Netherlands".
  • April 2011: URSI Research Conference, Paper "The Geographic Dimension of Intergenerational Proximity in the Netherlands".
  • June 2011: PopFest2011, Paper "The Regional Dimension of Intergenerational Proximity in the Netherlands".
  • June 2012: EPC 2012. Session 24 'Intergenerational contact and proximity'. Paper "Intergenerational Proximity as Resource for Well Being at Older Ages".
Last modified:24 October 2014 2.12 p.m.