Emptying the Nest: The United States, 1880 to 2000

Brian Gratton, Arizona State University

Long-term declines in elderly co-residence with children have been accompanied by increases in the use of the empty nest. Three models attempt to explain the shift: 1) cultural, normative change; 2) demographic factors; and 3) economic affluence, including Social Security. IPUMS data for men and women, 50 and over, reveal three distinct periods: slow trends toward the empty nest from at least 1880 to 1940, sharp upward ticks between 1940 and 1970, and slow upward trends from 1970 to 2000. The parallel behavior of diverse ethnic groups undermines cultural explanations; social security cannot account for trends for persons not covered. Multinomial logistic analyses for men of individual census points (and pooled estimates for 1880 to 1930 and 1940 to 2000 indicate consistency in some variables (e.g. age); but inconsistency in others (e.g. SES). Demographic factors, including level of immigration, may be one explanation for temporal shifts.

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Presented in Session 155: Historical Analysis of Families and Households