Background: Rapid population ageing in Thailand is accompanied by an increasingly understudied segment of the population- childless older adults. In collectivistic societies, where children are highly valued and institutional support for older adults is weak, childlessness may negatively affect one’s psychological well-being in later life. Data: Using data from the 2011 Survey of Older Persons in Thailand (N=41,867), this study examines the psychological distress of childless older adults relative to older parents. Analyses further explore how gender and marital status moderate this relationship. Results: Findings show that parents experience fewer symptoms of psychological distress relative to childless older adults. While the relationship between parental status and psychological well-being did not significantly differ by gender, marital status presents a significant moderating effect. Specifically, widowed childless older adults experienced more symptoms of psychological distress relative to widowed parents. Covariates that presented noteworthy patterns of increased symptoms of psychological distress include perceived economic insecurity, poor self-rated health, functional limitations, and chronic diseases. Employment was associated with reduced symptoms of psychological distress. Discussion: As fertility and marriage rates decline, future cohorts of older adults are more likely to be without two main sources of informal support: spouse and children. As such social welfare policies in Thailand should be particularly attentive to the mental health of childless and unmarried older adults. Furthermore, greater investments should be made in income security, increasing opportunities for, and access to, productive activity and healthy lifestyles to reduce chronic conditions. These conditions enhance mental health, regardless of parental status.
Moderator: Dr. Sutthida Chuanwan
January 4, 2017