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Open Access Research article

The influences of childlessness on the psychological well-being and social network of the oldest old

Josefin Vikström1*, Marie Bladh1, Mats Hammar1, Jan Marcusson23, Ewa Wressle23 and Gunilla Sydsjö1

Author Affiliations

1 Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, Linköping University, SE-581 85 Linköping, Sweden

2 Department of Geriatric Medicine, University Hospital, SE-581 85 Linköping, Sweden

3 Geriatrics, Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, Linköping University, SE-581 85 Linköping, Sweden

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BMC Geriatrics 2011, 11:78  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-11-78

Published: 23 November 2011

Abstract

Background

The ELSA 85 project is a population-based study with the purpose to learn more about the "elderly elderly". The aim of this part of the ELSA 85 study is to explore the effects of childlessness on the psychological wellbeing, living situation and social support of 85-year old individuals.

Methods

A postal questionnaire was sent to all (650) 85-year old men and women living in Linköping Municipality in 2007. Psychological well-being and social network was measured using a number of questions.

Results

496 individuals participated in the study. No differences in psychological wellbeing were found between the 85-year olds who were childless and those who were parents. The childless 85-year olds were less likely to have relatives close by and to receive help than those who were parents. Individuals of both groups were equally likely to end up in institutional care, to have friends close by and to be in contact with neighbours.

Conclusions

Even though elderly childless individuals have social networks of less support potential than those who are parents there are no differences in certain psychological wellbeing indicators between the two groups. Apparently, childless elderly individuals find ways to cope with whatever negative effects of childlessness they may have experienced.