Advertisement

Journal of Adult Development

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 69–79 | Cite as

How Do Parents React When Their Children Leave Home? An Integrative Review

  • Geneviève BouchardEmail author
Article

Abstract

The empty nest, which refers to the phase of the family life cycle following the departure of children, has been associated with both positive and negative consequences for parents. This article aims to achieve a better understanding of the complex effects of this transition. It discusses available data and theoretical perspectives on the empty nest, from pioneering works until the most recent studies on the subject. It includes a discussion of conceptualization and methodological issues, as well as a review of determinants of nest leaving. The influence of the departure of children on their parents’ marital quality and psychological well-being, including the potential development of empty-nest syndrome, are then summarized. Studies examining other parental outcome, such as marital instability or relationships with adult children, are also reviewed. It ends with a discussion on boomerang kids and directions for future research. In particular, the need to study the empty-nest period with parents living in a variety of marital situations is acknowledged.

Keywords

Empty nest Departure of children Family life cycle Marital relationships Well-being 

References

  1. Abas, M., Tangchonlatip, K., Punpuing, S., Jirapramukpitak, T., Darawuttimaprakorn, N., Prince, M., et al. (2013). Migration of children and impact on depression in older parents in rural Thailand, Southeast Asia. JAMA Psychiatry, 70, 226–234.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adelmann, P. K., Chadwick, K., & Baerger, D. R. (1996). Marital quality of black and white adults over the life course. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 13, 361–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ahlborg, T., Misvaer, N., & Möller, A. (2009). Perception of marital quality by parents with small children: A follow-up study when the firstborn is 4 years old. Journal of Family Nursing, 15, 237–263.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Anderson, S. A., Russell, C. S., & Schumm, W. R. (1983). Perceived marital quality and family life-cycle categories: A further analysis. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 45, 127–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Aquilino, W. S. (1991). Predicting parents’ experiences with coresident adult children. Journal of Family Issues, 12, 323–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Axelson, L. J. (1960). Personal adjustment in the postparental period. Marriage and Family Living, 22, 66–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beaupré, P., Turcotte, P., & Milan, A. (2006). When is junior moving out? Transitions from the parental home to independence. Canadian Social Trends, 82, 9–15.Google Scholar
  8. Borland, D. C. (1982). A cohort analysis approach to the empty-nest syndrome among three ethnic groups of women: A theoretical position. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 44, 117–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bozett, F. W. (1985). Male development and fathering throughout the life cycle. American Behavioral Scientist, 29, 41–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bradbury, T. N., Fincham, F. D., & Beach, S. R. (2000). Research on the nature and determinants of marital satisfaction: A decade in review. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 964–980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bumagin, V. E., & Hirn, K. F. (1982). Observations on changing relationships for older married women. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 42, 133–142.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cassidy, M. L. (1985). Role conflict in the postparental period: The effects of employment status on the marital satisfaction of women. Research on Aging, 7, 433–454.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chen, D., Yang, X., & Aagard, S. D. (2012). The empty nest syndrome: Ways to enhance quality of life. Educational Gerontology, 38, 520–529.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cherlin, A. J., Scabini, E., & Rossi, G. (1997). Still in the nest: Delayed home leaving in Europe and the United States. Journal of Family Issues, 18, 572–575.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Clemens, A. W., & Axelson, L. J. (1985). The not-so-empty-nest: The return of the fledgling adult. Family Relations, 34, 259–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cole, C. L., & Cole, A. L. (1999). Boundary ambiguities that bind former spouses together after the children leave home in post-divorce families. Family Relations, 48, 271–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Condie, S. J., & Doan, H. T. (1978). Role profit and marital satisfaction throughout the family life cycle. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 9, 257–267.Google Scholar
  18. Cooper, K. L., & Gutmann, D. L. (1987). Gender identity and ego mastery style in middle-aged, pre-, and post-empty nest women. The Gerontologist, 27, 347–352.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Crawford, M. P., & Hooper, D. (1973). Menopause, ageing and family. Social Science and Medicine, 7, 469–482.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Crowley, B. J., Hayslip, B., & Hobdy, J. (2003). Psychological hardiness and adjustment to life events in adulthood. Journal of Adult Development, 10, 237–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. D’Amore, S. (2009). Alcool et nid vide: Récit d’un travail thérapeutique avec un couple en crise de transition [Alcohol and empty nest: A case study of a couple in crisis]. Cahiers critiques de thérapie familiale et de pratiques de réseaux, 42, 231–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dare, J. S. (2011). Transitions in midlife women’s lives: Contemporary experiences. Health Care for Women International, 32, 111–133.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dennerstein, L., Dudley, E., & Guthrie, J. (2002). Empty nest or revolving door? A prospective study of women’s quality of life in midlife during the phase of children leaving and re-entering the home. Psychological Medicine, 32, 545–550.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Deutscher, I. (1964). The quality of postparental life: Definitions of the situation. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 26, 52–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Duvall, E. M., & Miller, B. C. (1985). Marriage and family development (6th ed.). New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  26. Dykstra, P. A., & Keizer, R. (2009). The wellbeing of childless men and fathers in mid-life. Ageing and Society, 29, 1227–1242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Elder, G. H. (1998). The life course and human development. In R. M. Lerner (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology, Vol. 1: Theoretical models of human development. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  28. Ellicott, A. M. (1985). Psychosocial changes as a function of family-cycle phase. Human Development, 28, 270–274.Google Scholar
  29. Erickson, J. J., Martinengo, G., & Hill, E. J. (2010). Putting work and family experiences in context: Differences by family life stage. Human Relations, 63, 955–979.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Feeney, J., Peterson, C., & Noller, P. (1994). Equity and marital satisfaction over the family life cycle. Personal Relationships, 1, 83–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Finkel, J. S., & Hansen, F. J. (1992). Correlates of retrospective marital satisfaction in long-lived marriages: A social constructivist perspective. Family Therapy, 19, 1–16.Google Scholar
  32. Glenn, N. D. (1975). Psychological well-being in the postparental stage: Some evidence from national surveys. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 37, 105–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gorchoff, S. M., John, O. P., & Helson, R. (2008). Contextualizing change in marital satisfaction during middle age. Psychological Science, 19, 1194–1200.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Gutmann, D. L. (1985). The parental imperative revisited: Towards a developmental psychology of adulthood and later life. Contributions to Human Development, 14, 31–60.Google Scholar
  35. Hagen, J. D., & DeVries, H. M. (2004). Marital satisfaction at the empty-nest phase of the family life cycle: A longitudinal study. Marriage and Family: A Christian Journal, 7, 83–98.Google Scholar
  36. Hansen, T., Slagsvold, B., & Moum, T. (2009). Childlessness and psychological well-being in midlife and old age: An examination of parental status effects across a range of outcomes. Social Indicators Research, 94, 343–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Harkins, E. B. (1978). Effects of empty nest transition on self-report of psychological and physical well-being. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 40, 549–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Harris, R. L., Ellicott, A. M., & Holmes, D. S. (1986). The timing of psychosocial transitions and changes in women’s lives: An examination of women aged 45–60. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 409–416.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hershberger, B. (1982). Living in the freedom there is. Activities, Adaptation and Aging, 2, 51–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hiedemann, B., Suhomlinova, O., & O’Rand, A. M. (1998). Economic independence, economic status, and empty nest in midlife marital disruption. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 219–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hobdy, J., Hayslip, B., Kaminski, P. L., Crowley, B. J., Riggs, S., & York, C. (2007). The role of attachment style in coping with job loss and the empty nest in adulthood. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 65, 335–371.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Holahan, C. K. (1984). Marital attitudes over 40 years: A longitudinal cohort analysis. Journal of Gerontology, 39, 49–57.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kapitus, C. A., & Johnson, M. P. (2003). The utility of family life cycle as a theoretical and empirical tool: Commitment and family life-cycle stage. Journal of Family Issues, 24, 155–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kumagai, F. (2010). Forty years of family change in Japan: A society experiencing population aging and declining fertility. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 41, 581–610.Google Scholar
  45. Lachman, M. E. (2004). Development in midlife. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 305–331.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Leopold, T., Geissler, F., & Pink, S. (2012). How far do children move? Spatial distances after leaving the parental home. Social Science Research, 41, 991–1002.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Lewis, R. A., & Duncan, S. F. (1991). How fathers respond when their youth leave and return home? Prevention in Human Services, 9, 223–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lippert, L. (1997). Women at midlife: Implications for theories of women’s adult development. Journal of Counseling and Development, 76, 16–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Liu, L., & Guo, Q. (2007). Loneliness and health-related quality of life for the empty nest elderly in the rural area of a mountainous county in China. Quality of Life Research, 16, 1275–1280.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Liu, L., & Guo, Q. (2008). Life satisfaction in a sample of empty-nest elderly: A survey in the rural area of a mountainous county in China. Quality of Life Research, 17, 823–830.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Mackey, R. A., & O’Brien, B. A. (1999). Adaptation in lasting marriages. Families in Society, 80, 587–596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Major, D. A., & Germano, L. M. (2006). The changing nature of work and its impact on the work-home interface. In F. Jones, R. J. Burke, & M. Westman (Eds.), Work-life balance: A psychological perspective (pp. 13–38). New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  53. McFarland, C., Ross, M., & DeCourville, N. (1989). Women’s theories of menstruation and biases in recall of menstrual symptoms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 522–531.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. McQuaide, S. (1998). Women at midlife. Social Work, 43, 21–31.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Menaghan, E. (1983). Marital stress and family transitions: A panel analysis. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 45, 371–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Mitchell, B. A., & Lovegreen, L. D. (2009). The empty nest syndrome in midlife families: A multimethod exploration of parental gender differences and cultural dynamics. Journal of Family Issues, 30, 1651–1670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Neugarten, B. L. (1976). Adaptation and the life cycle. Counseling Psychologist, 6, 16–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Nomaguchi, K. M., & Milkie, M. A. (2003). Costs and rewards of children: The effects of becoming a parent on adults’ lives. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 356–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Pryor, J. (1999). Waiting until they leave home: The experiences of young adults whose parents separate. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 32, 47–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Radloff, L. S. (1980). Depression and the empty nest. Sex Roles, 6, 775–781.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Raup, J. L., & Myers, J. E. (1989). The empty nest syndrome: Myth or reality? Journal of Counseling and Development, 68, 180–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Resnick, J. L. (1979). Women and aging. The Counseling Psychologist, 8, 29–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Rodgers, R. H., & Witney, G. (1981). The family cycle in twentieth century Canada. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 43, 727–740.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Rogers, L. P., & Markides, K. S. (1989). Well-being in the postparental stage in Mexican-American women. Research on Aging, 11, 508–516.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Rollins, B. C., & Cannon, K. L. (1974). Marital satisfaction over the family life cycle: A reevaluation. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 36, 271–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Rollins, B. C., & Feldman, H. (1970). Marital satisfaction over the family life cycle. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 32, 20–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Schmidt, P. J., Murphy, J. H., Haq, N., Rubinow, D. R., & Danaceau, M. A. (2004). Stressful life events, personal losses, and perimenopause-related depression. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 7, 19–26.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Schnaiberg, A., & Goldenberg, S. (1989). From empty-nest to crowded nest: The dynamics of incompletely-launched young adults. Social Problems, 36, 251–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Schram, R. W. (1979). Marital satisfaction over the family life cycle: A critique and proposal. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 41, 7–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Seiffge-Krenke, I. (2006). Leaving home or still in the nest? Parent-child relationships and psychological health as predictors of different leaving home patterns. Developmental Psychology, 42, 864–876.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Settersten, R. A. (1998). A time to leave home and a time never to return? Age constraints on the living arrangements of young adults. Social Forces, 76, 1373–1400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Sheriff, M., & Weatherall, A. (2009). A feminist discourse analysis of popular-press accounts of postmaternity. Feminist and Psychology, 19, 89–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Su, D., Wu, X., Zhang, Y., Li, H., Wang, W., Zhang, J., et al. (2012). Depression and social support between China’ rural and urban empty-nest elderly. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 55, 564–569.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Sussman, M. B. (1955). Activity patterns of post-parental couples and their relationship to family continuity. Marriage and Family Living, 17, 338–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Tucker, P., & Aron, A. (1993). Passionate love and marital satisfaction at key transition points in the family life cycle. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 12, 135–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Twenge, J. M., Campbell, W. K., & Foster, C. A. (2003). Parenthood and marital satisfaction: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 574–583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Umberson, D., Pudrovska, T., & Reczek, C. (2010). Parenthood, childlessness, and well-being: A life course perspective. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 612–629.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Umberson, D., Williams, K., Powers, D. A., Chen, M. D., & Campbell, A. M. (2005). As good as it gets? A life course perspective on marital quality. Social Forces, 84, 493–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Vaillant, C. O., & Vaillant, G. E. (1993). Is the U-curve of marital satisfaction an illusion? A 40-year study of marriage. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 55, 230–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. VanLaningham, J., Johnson, D. R., & Amato, P. (2001). Marital happiness, marital duration, and the U-shaped curve: Evidence from a five-wave panel study. Social Forces, 78, 1313–1341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Wang, J., & Zhao, X. (2011). Empty nest syndrome in China. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 58, 110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Wang, J., & Zhao, X. (2012). Family functioning, social support, and quality of life for Chinese empty nest older people with depression. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 27, 1204–1206.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Ward, R. A., & Spitze, G. D. (2007). Nestleaving and coresidence by young adult children: The role of family relations. Research on Aging, 29, 257–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. White, L. (1994). Coresidence and leaving home: Young adults and their parents. Annual Review of Sociology, 20, 81–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. White, L., & Edwards, J. N. (1990). Emptying the nest and parental well-being: An analysis of national panel data. American Sociological Review, 55, 235–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Wong, Y. C., & Leung, J. (2012). Long-term care in China: Issues and prospects. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 55, 570–586.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Wu, Z., Sun, L., Sun, Y., Zhang, X., Tao, F., & Cui, G. (2010). Correlation between loneliness and social relationship among empty nest elderly in Anhui rural area, China. Aging and Mental Health, 14, 108–112.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Xie, L., Zhang, J., Peng, F., & Jiao, N. (2010). Prevalence and related influencing factors of depressive symptoms for empty-nest elderly living in the rural area of YongZhou, China. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 50, 24–29.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversité de MonctonMonctonCanada

Personalised recommendations