Purdue University Graduate School
2023.7.25 Thomas Frase final.pdf (644.36 kB)

Adult Children's Education and Mothers’ Health:  Exploring the Roles of Adult Children’s Problems and Mothers’ Widowhood Status

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posted on 2023-07-25, 15:41 authored by Robert T FraseRobert T Frase

Education provides people with material, social, and cognitive resources which can bolster well-being, and a growing body of literature documents a positive association between adult children’s education and older parents’ health. Although researchers have begun to explore mechanisms which underlie and shape this association, few studies have considered the role of family context. Guided by the social foreground perspective, the central aims of this dissertation are to investigate: (1) whether adult children’s problems account for the relationship between adult children’s education and mothers’ depression and (2) whether the size of the association between adult children’s education and mothers’ depression varies between married and widowed mothers. To answer these questions, I utilize mediation and moderation techniques and data collected as part of the Within-Family Differences Study. Consistent with past work, I found that mothers with children who completed more education reported fewer depressive symptoms. In the first substantive chapter, mediation analyses suggested that this relationship was mediated by the proportion of adult children who have experienced physical and emotional problems in the last five years. Consistent with the life course perspective and cumulative inequality theory, these results highlight the ways in which (dis)advantages that impact health accumulate both across age and across generations. In the second substantive chapter, moderation analyses revealed that the association between adult children’s education and mothers’ psychological well-being was weaker among widowed mothers. I innovatively argue that these results are consistent with principles of socioemotional selectivity theory. Taken together, the results from these two chapters illuminate the importance of considering family context when studying the intergenerational implications of education for health. In addition, by augmenting our understanding of how and under what conditions adult children’s education matters for mothers’ psychological well-being, my results offer important insights for stakeholders invested in improving the psychological well-being of older adults.


This project was supported by the following funding sources: the National Institute on Aging (RO1 AG18869-01; 2RO1 AG18869-04) to J. Jill Suitor (PI) and Karl Pillemer (Co-PI); the Bilsland Dissertation Fellowship; and the Robert L. Eichhorn Fellowship.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Sociology

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Shawn Bauldry

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

J. Jill Suitor

Additional Committee Member 2

Patricia Thomas

Additional Committee Member 3

Megan Gilligan

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