Research Revelations on the Empty Nest

by

Last week’s blog was a reflection on my and my clients’ experiences transitioning to an empty nest. Since I’m all about using science to IGNITE change, I thought this week we’d dive a little deeper into research about how parents may react when their children leave the house.

Image showing lego empty nest parents waving goodbye to childA team of researchers at the University of Hamburg’s Department of Health Economics published an article called “The empty nest, depressive symptoms and loneliness of older parents: Prospective findings from the German Ageing Survey”. The research tests whether parents’ rates of depressive symptoms and loneliness increased when their children moved out. The study sets out by citing the extensive previous research that does indeed show that parents report having negative reactions to their children flying the nest. Some research suggests empty nesters may be more likely than those still living with children at home to report negative trends in their physical health, cognitive abilities, and psychological health. But, importantly, some studies don’t find this pattern! This is probably partly because of logistical things like the wide-ranging cultural differences in the countries where empty nest studies have taken place, and it’s also probably true that parents do feel a mix of positive and negative emotions. I know I did! Image showing research revelations empty nest science

The nine-year study of interest took place with 10,158 German parents with a mix of empty nesters and non-empty-nesters. The participants filled in surveys that measured depressive symptoms and loneliness and gave information about whether or not their children lived in their households. The first analyses revealed that empty nest parenthood was associated with an increase in depressive symptoms among moms but, interestingly, not dads. The researchers noted that the relationship wasn’t particularly stable, as it shifted when they made some technical adjustments to their model. They note that, in Germany, it is common for young adults to live near their parents after moving out. The US, on the other hand, is 28x larger than Germany! Children may scatter farther and wider in America than in smaller European countries. 

There’s still a lot for us to learn about the effects of empty nest transitions on moms, but this study was an interesting take! The empty nest syndrome is universal — parents everywhere experience this transition in some way. I can say from experience that it’s full of ups and downs. 

The bottom line? Most moms struggle when their children move out. Whether you’re a mom currently trying to navigate this or a mom wanting to prepare for the day when it comes, I’d love to support you.