From the  ending of John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath where Rose breastfeeds a starving stranger.

From the ending of John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath where Rose breastfeeds a starving stranger.

I’ll never forget January 2010, the month that my maternal grandmother passed away.  Not only was she the matriarch of our family, she was my last living grandparent.  This was the only grandparent death I’d experienced as an adult, so it was different.  As we sat there in the church building during her funeral services and I looked around at the family and friends gathered, I could not help but think about the last few years of her life.  I thought about how after my grandfather passed, she had taken care of herself and her household, but as she aged, she needed help.  My mom, her siblings, and her caretaker were her support the last few years of her life when she became feeble.  I began to wonder, who is going to take care of me when I become elderly?  If nothing changes and I do not have children, what will happen to me when I age?

When we are young, we are under the impression that we must follow the perceived societal norm: go to college, get married, have children, and live happily ever after.  However as of late, the norm is shifting. More women are delaying childbirth for educational pursuits and for economic reasons. In the United States, women, ages 35-39, having their first child has increased 50% over the last 20 years. (Peterson, Pirritanom, Tucker & Lampic, 2012)  As a result a woman may unexpectedly be faced with infertility, due to reduction in fertility that comes with age.   In addition, there are some who individuals who purposely choose not to be parents.  As this generation ages, we could possibly see more people in the childless and elderly demographic.  When those in this demographic become ill, they may face a different set of issues than those with children, as noted by DeOllos and Kapinus.  Their work asserts that childless elderly individuals are more likely to be institutionalized if they became ill and once released, their network of friends and family were not extremely supportive (DeOllos & Kapinus, 2002).

Although it is not guaranteed that someone with children will have better care than someone who does not, it is more likely that a child will feel obligated to care for an ill parent.  There are many factors that can contribute to how this scenario may turn out for someone and many questions that have to be answered, especially as societal norms continue to transform.  I am not sure of what the future holds for me, I am certain that as my parents age, my siblings and I will be there, just as they were for my grandparents.

Our Guest Blogger this week is Leah Jacobs, Coordinator, East Texas Area Health Education Center


  1. DeOllos, I. Y., & Kapinus, C. A. (2002). Aging childless individuals and couples: suggestions for new directions in research. Sociological Inquiry, 72, 72-80.
  2. Peterson, B. D., Pirritano, M., Tucker, L., & Lampic, C. (1012). Fertility awareness and parenting attitudes among American male and female undergraduate university students. Human Reproduction, 27, 1375-1382.

Image from Seen and Heard International Opera Review ( This image was first used here in the post: A Compassionate RoboCop?

Join us for a real-time discussion about the rather grave question raised by this essay on Tuesday from 12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. See Discussion and SL tabs above for details. Link to the virtual meeting room: