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Ashton Verdery, Penn State University

Older Adult Family Structure and Mortality (co-authored work with Sarah Patterson and Rachel Margolis)
When Oct 22, 2018
from 12:00 PM to 01:00 PM
Where 1101 Morrill Hall
Contact Name
Contact Phone 301-405-6403
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About the Presentation

The U.S. population is aging and family forms are changing. There has been an increase in older adults without living family members, and this population is expected to grow. Although research has explored characteristics of older adults without family members, who sometimes referred to as "kinless" or "elder orphans," less is known about whether such individuals have elevated risks of mortality. Using panel data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), we examine survival rates of older adults in the United States and test for differences in mortality risks between individuals lacking different types and combinations of family members. We find that lacking family among older adults is associated with increased risk of mortality, but that the effects differ depending on which family members are available. Older adults without any kin at all have the highest probability of mortality risk, followed by those who only have living children, compared to those who have a partner/spouse, sibling, and children alive. We also explore a series of explanatory mechanisms that might explain the relationships between family structure and older adult mortality, including social connections, physical health, and economic factors. While social, physical, and economic indicators partially explain the associations, lacking family members has an enduring hazard for mortality even after controlling for these factors. These findings have implications for older adults, the social support system and safety net, and public policies in the United States.

About the Speaker

Ashton Verdery

Dr. Verdery is a sociologist and demographer at Pennsylvania State University whose research focuses on social networks: how and why people are connected to one another and the consequences of those connections. Within this broad area, Verdery is especially interested in how population dynamics shape family, kinship, and social networks and how those networks in turn affect health and other population processes. Verdery has given special attention to migration and the network ties that migrants retain to origin areas after moving as well as the new ties they form in different destinations. He is  also very interested in using social networks as a basis for sampling populations that are otherwise difficult to survey, including migrants, those at high risk of sexually transmitted or blood-borne infections, and opioid users. In this line of research, he is working on new ways to use and improve network based sampling methods, including respondent-driven sampling. 

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