COMPARED with previous eras, today families are bearing fewerchildren, elderly parents are living longer, and more women are in theworkforce. All factors mediate the dynamics occurring in intergenerational families. Moreover, rises in divorce rates, teenage pregnancies, and single parenting are contributing to the increasing role of grandparents in raising grandchildren (Burton, 1992). Although social service programs exist to help families adapt to the changing needs of their members, the primary
Correspondence and requests for reprints: Susan Fox, Department of Communication, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008; e-mail email@example.com
Communication Yearbook 22, pp. 377-429
source of assistance is still other family members. These social changes have also increased the amount of support and caregiving families are having to give. Lang (1995) has found that the poverty rate among older adults would increase up to 42% if they did not live with their relatives. As Lee and Sheehan (1989) note, "Instances of older persons who are truly isolated from their families are very rare, and few older Americans who require aid or assistance are forced to rely solely on formal agencies" (p. 117). Only 5% of elderly adults are living in institutions at any given time (Palmore, 1980), and families provide 80-90% of medical and personal care as well as help with household tasks, transportation, and shopping needs for the elderly (Mares, 1995). Children who provide assistance, however, experience strain from giving care to older adults, and the psychological well-being of both adult children and older parents may change as the result of giving and receiving assistance (Sheehan & Nuttall, 1988). This may contribute to the increasingly noted problem of elder abuse (see, e.g., Gold & Gwyther, 1989; Noelker & Townsend, 1987; Steinmetz, 1988). Therefore, the importance of the family in providing social support and caregiving for older adults has been well documented by researchers (Cantor, 1975; Cicirelli, 1989; Lee & Ishii-Kuntz, 1987; Marks, 1996). Given the changing nature of intergenerational issues, researchers need to investigate how these changes are affecting the behavior and communication of people within family settings (Cicirelli, 1989; Thompson, 1989).