Seventy-seven pairs of mothers, aged 44 to 80 and adult children aged 18 to 44 in mainland China participated in a 14-day daily diary study during a stay-at-home period during the COVID-19 outbreak. For 14 consecutive days, participants reported the daily support they had given and received from their mother or child, the intensity of their daily positive and negative affect, and the number of hours of interaction with the other individual, and rated their daily subjective health.
The analysis was carried out in three parts to determine: (1) whether intergenerational support was reciprocal on a daily basis by examining the association between daily received and provided support; (2) whether the level of being under-benefitted on a day was associated with daily positive and negative affect; and (3) whether receiving and offering support were associated with daily positive and negative affect.
Support received from the partner was associated with support offered to the partner on the same day. This effect was significant for both the mothers and children. A greater level of being under-benefitted was associated with a lower level of positive affect in the children, but not the mothers. These findings suggested that children, but not mothers, felt less positive affect when they provided more support than they received. For mothers, offering more support to children but not receiving support from children was positively associated with positive affect. Mothers reported more positive affect on the days they provided more support to children. For children, receiving more support from mothers but not offering support to mothers was positively associated with positive affect. Children reported more positive affect on the days they received more support from their mothers.
The findings have significantly advanced the literature of intergenerational relationships in adulthood by highlighting the role of daily reciprocity and its implications on daily well-being of aging parents and adult children during a public health crisis. In addition, the findings also have some practical implications. Older adults are generally considered more vulnerable during public health events. During the pandemic, researchers and practitioners recommended that older adults should be given more support. However, the findings from the study suggest that to promote better mental health during a crisis, older adults may be given some opportunities to support their family members, especially co-residing children. Policymakers and practitioners might consider older adults themselves a valuable resource in the work of promoting the health and well-being of older adults and of those they support.
The study was conducted together with Professor Helene Fung Hoi-lam at the Department of Psychology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
To learn more about the study, please click here.