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The COVID-19 Pandemic: Global Impacts on Families

La pandémie de COVID-19 : quelles répercussions sur les familles ?
La pandemia de COVID-19: ¿qué impacto tiene en las familias?
Laurence Charton, Léoni Labrecque et Joseph Josy Lévy
Traduction de Valentina Baslyk
Cet article est une traduction de :
La pandémie de COVID-19 : quelles répercussions sur les familles ? [fr]


Cadre de la recherche : La pandémie de la COVID-19 et les mesures restrictives de distanciation physique et de confinement ont affecté les liens sociaux et familiaux. Ces contraintes ont obligé les personnes à repenser leurs relations familiales et de couple, la gestion des temps familiaux et professionnels, leurs relations intergénérationnelles, ainsi que les transitions de vie. Exacerbant les tensions de la vie conjugale et familiale ou renforçant ces liens, cette pandémie a offert aussi l’occasion de réfléchir à de nouvelles stratégies du vivre ensemble.
Objectifs : Cet article introductif propose un tour d’horizon des effets et des conséquences de la pandémie de COVID-19 sur les familles et leurs membres.
Méthodologie : Cet article s’appuie sur une revue de littérature de diverses disciplines en sciences sociales.
Résultats : Des éclairages partiels ont été apportés sur les questions suivantes : Quels effets a eu la pandémie sur les différentes configurations familiales et leurs membres ? Comment les familles ont-elles géré les conséquences économiques de la pandémie? Quelles ont été les réverbérations des mesures sanitaires mises en place pour contrer les contagions de la pandémie sur le couple, les enfants, les relations intergénérationnelles et la santé mentale ? Comment les rites mortuaires et les processus de deuil ont-ils été affectés ?
Conclusion : Cet article contribue à montrer, au-delà des épreuves individuelles et sociales résultant de la COVID-19, l’émergence de nouvelles solidarités, familiales et générationnelles, ainsi que les stratégies d’adaptation et de résilience développées pendant cette pandémie.
Contribution : Tout au long de l’histoire, les sociétés ont été confrontées à des épidémies qui ont entrainé des répercussions sur toutes les sphères de la vie. La pandémie de la COVID-19 notamment, a permis de relever à nouveau l’importance, la fragilité et la force des liens sociaux et familiaux et les défis du vivre ensemble dans ces conditions.

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1Throughout history, from the plague of Athens, as reported by Thucydides, to COVID-19, (Fabre, 1998; Sardon, 2020) societies have dealt with epidemics that affected every aspect of human life. Their impacts are manifested as much in the imagination as in social representations and thus they constitute a total social fact, to use Marcel Mauss's expression (1923). Epidemics disrupt social bonds and particularly family bonds, often with contradictory results. Research conducted in various areas of the social sciences highlights the problematic effects of epidemics on the organization of families, their functioning, the mental health of their members and their attitudes regarding death. The research also addresses the types of coping and resilience that mitigate some of the severe consequences and help people adapt to these extreme conditions. These issues are present in the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19: Reflections on the emergence of a pandemic

2On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the COVID-19 epidemic, caused by a previously unknown coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, was now considered a pandemic (OMS, 2022). From its onset in Wuhan, China, from November 2019 to November 2022 the virus spread rapidly around the world, causing at least 6.6 million deaths and over 634 million confirmed infections. The elderly (Esmaeili et al., 2022), pregnant women (Durankuş et Aksu, 2022), and people with comorbidities were particularly at risk for serious consequences that affected their health and their life expectancy (Smil and Brooks, 2022).

3In response to the spike in infections, hospitalizations and deaths, many countries began implementing emergency measures in early 2020 in efforts to control the spread of the virus and to avoid overloading health and intensive care services. These measures included the mandatory wearing of masks, social distancing, promoting hand washing, avoiding and even eliminating physical contact (handshakes, kissing). In China, several cities were quickly quarantined, (Caduff, 2020) and curfews and lockdowns were also introduced. Canada, including the province of Quebec, declared a health emergency on March 13, 2020, closed schools, universities, public spaces, offices and businesses that were considered non-essential, and cancelled activities, such as select medical appointments and legal proceedings (Madjunkov et al., 2020). To curb new outbreaks of the virus, most countries closed their borders and prohibited all non-essential travel. Gatherings of family and of people who did not live under the same roof were also prohibited (Oneyaka et al., 2021).

4Medical research, vaccine innovations, messenger RNA vaccines in particular, and the first inoculation campaigns proposed in some countries (spring 2021) made it possible to gradually reduce the most drastic health measures by offering better protection against lung infections without, however, stopping the virus from spreading. The constantly mutating virus caused nine successive epidemic waves (Nair and Cheriyan, 2023); however, the latter waves resulted in a much lower mortality rate. Biomedical research aimed to determine the characteristics of the coronavirus and its evolution. Concurrently, research in epidemiology and the social sciences was undertaken to study the impact of this epidemic on populations, social bonds and families. These studies, which were conducted around the world, sought to answer the following questions: How did the pandemic affect families and family members? How did families cope with the economic consequences of the pandemic? How did the health measures in response to the pandemic affect couples, children, intergenerational relationships and mental health? How did people who lost a loved one undergo the grieving process?

5This introductory article to the thematic issue “Families in the Time of COVID-19” of the international journal Enfances Familles Générations presents partial insights into these various questions through a review of the literature.

Severe socio-economic impacts

6Successive lockdowns have had economic impacts on many individuals and families. In all countries, the pandemic deepened socio-economic inequalities and placed the economic burden of the crisis on the most vulnerable groups (Weeland et al., 2021).

7An international study of household income levels in 2020, conducted among working populations in 43 countries, showed that more than half of households (53%) experienced a significant drop in income due to job loss, reduced hours of work, increased costs of consumer products and increased family expenses (Pinkovetskaia, 2022). Incomes remained stable for 40% of households, and increased among less than 4%. Government financial assistance somewhat limited the decline in household income, particularly among the poorest groups.

8In Quebec, the 2020-2021 Population Health Survey (Enquête sur la santé de la population [EQSP] 2020-2021) showed that approximately 26% of employed individuals aged 15 and over experienced financial hardship during the pandemic, affecting not only their financial obligations, but also their basic needs, such as being able to pay for their rent or mortgage, utilities (electricity, heating, internet) and groceries (ISQ, 2021). The financial impact particularly affected those who had low incomes prior to the pandemic (63%), as well as single parents (35%) and couples with children (29%).

9In the United States, Taylor et al. (2022) identified greater economic challenges for single mothers, specifically due to school closures and the lack of free alternative child care services, often forcing them to leave their jobs in order to stay home and care for their children (Radey et al., 2021). This also occurred in France (Zaouche-Gaudron et al., 2022) where single mothers, over-represented in low-skill, low-wage jobs that were unlikely to enable telework, often had to leave their jobs to take care of their children. Furthermore, economic difficulties and challenges to work-life balance had negative effects on their psychological well-being, as shown in research in Canada (Dionisi et al., 2021) and the U.S. (Taylor et al., 2022) as well.

10Immigrant families more often also faced economic and health challenges due to the pandemic. In the U.S., for example, Solheim et al. (2022) observed that immigrant families experienced a higher level of stress due to job loss and the resulting effects (risk of eviction from the home due to non-payment of rent, accumulation of unpaid bills, fears that their residency permit would not be renewed). Reduced access to government resources or lack of immigration documents limited opportunities to obtain aid for some of those families. Lack of digital skills and language barriers also complicated the use of services available to some immigrant families. In Canada, and specifically in Toronto, Guruge et al. (2021) noted the very difficult socio-economic conditions of immigrant and racialized people, mainly caused by their limited access to official and non-official resources. The Quebec Public Health Association (Association pour la santé publique du Québec [ASPQ]) also observed that the economic hardships associated with the lockdowns and subsequent unemployment of “non-essential workers” severely affected populations already facing a challenging socioeconomic situation prior to the pandemic, such as immigrant and racialized populations, as well as ethnocultural minorities (Bastien et al., 2022). These populations experienced longer periods of unemployment and a significant reduction in their income, which made them even more economically vulnerable (deterioration of the professional and financial situation). According to Bastien et al. (2022), they also had to deal with language barriers (to obtain appropriate advice and support) and social barriers (stigmatization and being a scapegoat, especially among Asian communities), as well as overexposure to the virus due to professional and residential conditions (jobs in health services, living in small, overcrowded dwellings) and a higher incidence of mental health problems (depression and anxiety).

11The pandemic had a greater economic impact on the lives of LGBTQ+ people than heterosexuals. According to an American survey (Movement Advance Projet, 2020), two-thirds of respondents who identify as LGBTQ+ report job loss and, for the majority, a decrease in wages. These circumstances are even more pronounced in low-income households and among Latin American and African American LGBTQ+ minorities. One of the reasons for this is the employment sectors of many LGBTQ+ people (restaurants and food services, schools, colleges and universities, and retail) had to shut down during the lockdown. This community experienced social isolation more often than heterosexuals, because they tend to live alone and cannot always rely on family support. Furthermore, according to Sears et al. (2021), they also suffer from greater food insecurity than heterosexuals.

Reorganization of space and domestic routines

12In addition to limiting the spread of the virus, the lockdowns caused numerous job losses (Behar-Zusman et al., 2020), and transformed the way people work by requiring them to work remotely (Tremblay and Mathieu, 2020). The closure of schools, which deprived children of many sources of educational, social and cultural stimulation (Bailey et Jean-Pierre, 2020) and confined them to their homes, compelled families to adapt to each other’s needs (Kong et al., 2021). They were forced to rethink and reorganize their living space to adapt to professional requirements (telework and online meetings), but also to address educational expectations (online education or children’s schooling) and leisure (such as playing sports online). Ismé and Michel (2021) noted the particularly problematic situation of Indigenous families in Canada, whose cramped residential conditions had a major impact on their well-being (mental health problems, depression related to restrictions on freedom of movement, etc.). In a pandemic situation, residential space became multifunctional (again), causing family members to adapt to the different functions (Kong et al., 2021) by modulating, for example, their noise level during videoconferences and by establishing new rules so that everyone could find their bearings. At the same time, cyberspace invaded whole areas of people’s lives, depending on their level of access, their place of residence and their socioeconomic status. Cyberspace became essential for communication, education, leisure activities and connection with family and friends (Singer and Brodzinsky, 2020). This reorganization involved not only space but also time, as new routines were created for teleworking, online teaching of children and organizing leisure and other activities to alleviate social isolation and boredom (Bhamani et al., 2020).

Varying impacts on the couple relationship

13The constraints of lockdown also generated new relational dynamics, especially within couples (Fraenkel and Cho, 2020). Some of these limitations turned out to be positive, but others created difficulties caused by the reorganization of domestic space, time schedules, and daily routines and rules. As noted in a review of the literature (Pietromonaco and Overall, 2022), during the lockdowns, some couples were able to maintain stability in the quality of their relationship and even to improve it by finding new ways of living in harmony together, while others experienced significant conflict. The couples who strengthened their relationship tended to increase the amount of time they spent together on joint activities, for example, and also reported greater intimacy. Couples already in a mutually satisfactory relationship also appear to have better managed daily stress, adapted more easily to changes in routines and maintained more effective methods of communication. Conversely, partners whose relationships were already problematic before the pandemic reported escalating conflicts within their relationship (Fivecoat et al., 2022). In addition, the needs for personal and spousal intimacy appear to have been the source of most marital conflict during the lockdowns (Luetke et al., 2020; Lee et al., 2022). Studies have also noted marital conflicts related to differences in behaviour with respect to the distancing rules issued during COVID-19 (Schokkenbroek et al., 2021).

14Studies on the impact of the pandemic on couples emphasized differences in the configuration of couples and families. For example, a study in Spain (Günther-Bel et al., 2020) observed that the marital life of couples without children improved while that of couples with children tended to deteriorate more often. This was also observed in Australia by Graham et al. (2021) in couples who worked from home. The evolution of the marital relationship was studied in the U.S. by Williamson (2020) who observed that in the first few weeks of the pandemic, many partners in a relationship felt closer, but over time, they reported difficulties, a decline in marital satisfaction and an increase in distress. A Belgian study on the unhappiness of couples observed that women were more sensitive to conflict, that partners had differing expectations, and that women felt neglected more often than men (Schokkenbroek et al., 2021). The ability of spouses to cope with the pandemic was also found to be associated with the extent of their losses (death, job loss, etc.) (Pietromonaco and Overall, 2022) and with the social support available outside of the couple (Feeney and Fitzgerald, 2022).

15Lastly, tensions were particularly high among couples in the process of separating or divorcing before the pandemic, and who were forced to live together for financial reasons or administrative and legal delays (difficulties in reaching lawyers and mediators; in the case of virtual session, technical and social difficulties related to the use of IT [information and communications technologies]) (Goldberg et al., 2021). Couples who had separated before the pandemic also noted co-parenting conflicts, including problems with alimony support due to job loss, delays in receiving unemployment cheques and newly incurred expenses.

A rise in domestic violence

16The rise in domestic violence is a significant indicator of deteriorating relationships during the pandemic and lockdowns. According to a U.S. study (Drotning et al., 2022), men reported an increase in all types of violence, while women mostly reported a rise in domestic violence. Saint-Girons et al. (2020) noted an uptick in domestic violence among First Nations, Inuit and Métis families. Meta-analyses on domestic violence confirmed this trend in all contexts (Piquero et al., 2021), specifically an increase in domestic violence (psychological, physical and sexual) towards pregnant women (Huldani et al., 2022). Some studies also highlighted a possible link between this violence and the rise in maternal mortality and stillbirth observed during the pandemic (Chmielewska et al., 2021).

17Numerous factors were associated with this increase in intimate partner violence, including worsening economic conditions, heightened levels of anxiety, increased alcohol consumption, isolation and lack of support networks that failed to control abusers and adequately support their victims (Saint-Girons et al., 2020; Campbell, 2021).

Reorganizing the sharing of highly gender-specific tasks

18Telework and the responsibility for managing children’s schooling during the lockdowns led to a reorganizing family interactions and family life, as noted by various studies carried out in China (Dong et al., 2020), the U.S., Great Britain and Italy (Biroli et al., 2021). Women in particular saw an increase in their family and domestic responsibilities now that families could not rely on their networks, specifically the support of grandparents (Power, 2020). Telework, which Yavorsky et al. (2021) found to be more prevalent among women, did not affect the distribution of their family responsibilities, as mothers consistently still spent nearly twice as much time with their children as fathers (Lyttelton et al., 2020). Women often had to adjust their activities and work schedules to accommodate those of their partner (Del Boca et al., 2022). The men, who were frequently essential workers, were sometimes forced to stay away from home for long periods to avoid infecting their families (Behar-Zusman et al., 2020). This also contributed to imbalances in the distribution of family tasks between parents. Family management, which is often a stress factor and can sometimes lead to a reduction in household income, also affected the well-being of families, intensifying the levels of anxiety, depression and negative emotions, such as anger and frustration (Kerr et al., 2021).

19Although in some situations the differences in parental involvement appeared to have diminished slightly, especially when women continued to work outside the home (Jessen et al., 2021), this did not really change this level of gender inequalities, since family responsibilities were still more often borne by women. Yet, in families where men increased their contribution to domestic tasks, tensions over the expected roles of each person in the family were similarly observed (Günther-Bel et al., 2020).

20More generally, it appears that conflict between partners rose more sharply in families that did not share tasks equally prior to the pandemic, particularly tasks involving children (Calarco et al., 2020). In this context, a U.S. study (Kerr et al., 2021) also noted that the increased domestic burden on women caused parental burnout and undermined their sense of being a good mother.

Contraception, reproduction and the risks of the pandemic

21The plan to have a child was sometimes reconsidered during the pandemic. In the U.S., one in six women reported having difficulties obtaining contraceptives during the pandemic for a number of reasons, including difficulties accessing a pharmacy, costs, difficulty in obtaining a medical appointment and a prescription (Lin et al., 2021). The lack of contraceptives may have led to an uptick in the number of unwanted pregnancies, but data to confirm or refute this hypothesis is not currently available. Diamond et al. (2020) noted that difficulties in access to contraception were partly due to observed breaks in the production and distribution chain of medical contraceptives.

22Attitudes to having a baby during the pandemic varied. In Australia, many couples reported delaying having children (Chivers et al., 2021). Similarly, in Italy (Micelli et al., 2020), over one-third of the couples who wanted to have a child prior the pandemic said they preferred to put their plan on hold. Financial insecurity and the risk of transmitting the virus were the most common reasons to delay having children. However, the study also noted that nearly 12% of women who did not plan to have a child before the pandemic changed their minds. During the lockdown they were motivated by the need to be more positive and to change their lives in more meaningful ways. In the U.S. (Lin et al., 2021), nearly two in five (41%) women also reported that the pandemic had increased their desire to have children; nearly one-third (34%) said that the health situation had no effect on their desire, while a quarter of women of child-bearing age admitted that the pandemic had diminished their desire for children. In addition, 37% of women said they were worried about being pregnant during the pandemic, and 13% indicated that it was more difficult in this situation to have a child because of economic conditions. Participants in the study who faced significant economic challenges (housing, food, transportation), particularly racialized and ethnocultural minority women, were also twice as likely to report not wanting children. In Turkey, housewives postponed getting pregnant because they were afraid the virus would impact their health and drive them further into isolation (Aydin and Aktaş, 2021).

23Among infertile couples, the closure of fertility clinics because of health measures intensified their worry, distress, frustration and anger over these measures, which they considered to be unfair (Tippett, 2022). Couples perceived the interruption in the services of fertility clinics, particularly in Quebec, as threatening their plans to have children (Boivin et al., 2020). Many couples reported difficulties in coping with delays and experienced periods of great distress that affected their well-being and mental health. These observations are consistent with those of Diamond et al. (2020) in the U.S., who noted the deleterious effects of clinic closures or of difficulties accessing them, which created new concerns for these couples, who were already a clientele at high risk for distress.

Being pregnant during COVID-19: despair and joy

24Women experienced pregnancy during the pandemic in various ways. Several studies reported an increase in anxiety among pregnant women, especially among those who were infected with COVID-19, due to actual or anticipated risks to the fetus (Tomfohr- Madsen et al., 2021). The anxiety was intensified by background factors, such as financial problems, unemployment, illness, and a reduction in support options (Luo et al., 2022).

25Pandemic conditions disrupted pregnancy on personal, relational and routine levels, due partly to a disconnect between expectations and actual experience, and which sometimes caused disappointment and sadness that could be shared with the partner (Sweet et al., 2021). First-time mothers, in particular, expressed the feeling that their pregnancy had been stolen from them and that they were not able to take full advantage of what should have been an exceptional experience (Riley et al., 2021). The vast majority of these women also reported distress, especially when the relationship with their partner worsened (McMillan et al., 2021). On the social level, research highlighted the frustration and bitterness they felt with the lack of support and with being unable to share the experience of their pregnancy with family and friends (Atmuri et al., 2022). The constraints of physical distancing also interfered with pre-birth rituals, such as buying baby clothes, public announcements of the unborn child’s sex, and baby showers – all the usual opportunities to celebrate the mother-to-be before the arrival of her child. These missed experiences often caused sadness, anger and frustration (Sweet et al., 2021).

26However, other women also mentioned that they had a good pregnancy during the pandemic. For example, in Australia, women reported that their pregnancy was a positive experience but that they also felt guilty for being pregnant during the pandemic (Australian College of Midwives, 2020). In Quebec and Turkey, women also reported that the pandemic had made it easier for them to carry out their pregnancy as they were able to rest without guilt (Aydin and Aktaş, 2021; Charton et al., 2022). Video conferencing also helped them to connect with those around them during pregnancy, especially with (future) grandparents (Gilligan et al., 2020).

Heightened anxiety around childbirth and the postpartum period

27The health measures put in place during the pandemic changed the environment in which the birth would take place. For hospital births, in the early days of the pandemic, health measures first sought to limit or prevent the presence of the spouse or caregiver with (future) mothers, and to separate the mother from the child in case of COVID-19 infection (Diamond et al., 2020). These measures were gradually abandoned, partly because of the rise in couples who were considering giving birth outside the hospital. In the U.S. (Whipps et al., 2021) and Canada (Rudrum, 2021), many couples had expressed a desire to give birth at home, because they were afraid they would not receive sufficient support due to health restrictions and to avoid contracting the virus in the hospital setting. Despite the rise in out-of-hospital birthing requests, the number of couples who made this option a reality seemed to remain small.

28The pandemic also affected the past-partum period because in-person family support diminished, although it was partially offset by communication technologies and telehealth (Diamond et al., 2020). Lack of social support and services principally affected breastfeeding and child feeding, as did difficulties in finding milk substitutes for infants, particularly in the U.S. (DeYoung and Mangum, 2021). In Belgium, women also noted a lack of counselling and medical support for breastfeeding, although the majority also reported that they had success with breastfeeding, and even prolonged it to protect their child from becoming infected with the virus (Ceulemans et al., 2020; 2021). In addition, isolation has had conflicting effects on breastfeeding practices and mothering, making it easier for some, but heightening anxiety and stress for others, who had to look after their infants on their own (Suwalska et al., 2021).

Parent-child relationships put to the test

29Pre-pandemic socio-economic conditions played a significant role not only in the ability of families to adapt to the pandemic, but also in parent-child relationships. Canadian researchers (Bailey and Jean- Pierre, 2020) have shown that the health measures had a greater impact on families who were already experiencing functional difficulties prior to the pandemic. Families who relied on community, institutional and intergenerational (grandparents’) support to alleviate their hardships, and who then saw that support collapse during the lockdown, suffered significant distress, particularly because of their isolation.

30These families’ elevated levels of stress and distress seemed to last beyond the lockdowns (Brown et al., 2020). An international study (Weeland et al., 2021) found that pre-pandemic mental health issues were a significant factor in the inability to cope. Isolation created a sense of loneliness felt by all members of the family unit, especially in families with limited social and economic resources (Kerr et al., 2021). These families reported more psychological difficulties (financial and other concerns, anxiety, sadness and loneliness) and parenting challenges. A study conducted in Hong Kong (Wong et al., 2021) also found that parents from low-income economic classes reported more family conflicts and a lower level of well-being than those from more advantaged socio-economic groups.

31Although the COVID-19 virus appears to have had little medical impact on children in general (Lee et al., 2020), they were nonetheless exposed to situations of anxiety and uncertainty related to lack of information or contradictory information, to fear of contracting the virus and to often intensified conflict between their parents (Kong et al., 2021). Psychologically, a significant percentage showed a decline in prosocial behaviours (empathy, sharing and mutual support) (Gagné et al., 2021)), and experienced a type of distress related to the loss of social ties (Chu et al., 2021). Signs of regression in their prosocial behaviours also contributed to their parents’ anxiety about their children’s ability to develop caring behaviour in the future.

32An analysis of how tensions in a couple affect their children, notably in the U.S., Italy and Great Britain (Biroli et al., 2021; McRae et al., 2021), also showed that the marital relationship not only affected the relationship between the spouses, but also acted as a mediating variable to modulate the psychological and behavioural difficulties of children during COVID-19. Domestic violence also contributed to increased symptoms of distress and anxiety among parents, as well as children (Browne et al., 2021). Studies have attempted to determine even more precisely the impact of parental concerns on the psychological state of children. It was found that parental anxiety, which had a negative effect on their parenting and daily routines, including causing sleep disturbances (Suffren et al., 2021) and decreased attention to the needs of family members (Prime et al., 2020), also induced greater anxiety in their children. In Quebec, a study (Suffren et al., 2021) showed that the more anxious parents were about the consequences of COVID-19 (physical health of family members, access to health care, finances), the more their children absorbed these fears. This distress was also higher among parents who did not feel effective in their parental role (Gagné et al., 2021). A Canadian study noted the role of deteriorating mental health of parents on the rise of alcohol use and suicidal thoughts among underage youth (Gadermann et al., 2021). In China (Li and Zhou, 2021), parents who were more anxious about the transmission of the virus also had a negative influence on the psychological state of their children, especially those of a young age, who developed higher levels of anxiety. In the U.S., Chu et al. (2021) observed that parents’ difficulties in balancing the demands of overseeing their children’s schoolingat home with their own domestic and professional responsibilities had a negative impact on the mental health of both parents and children. A study on children living with a single parent in Japan (Naito et al., 2022) found that the former faced a higher risk of emotional instability and problematic behaviour (violence, abusive language, demotivation, absenteeism), but that certain situational factors could also significantly modulate these effects (school attendance, access to online education, sleep and activity patterns).

33Other research highlighted the positive impacts of the pandemic and lockdowns on parent-child relationships. A Turkish study (Öngören, 2021) noted that bonds between parent and child became stronger because of the time spent on joint activities and conversations. The pandemic also allowed many parents to (re)discover their children and observe their development (Toran et al., 2021), to involve them more directly in educational support (Behar-Zusman et al., 2020), thereby strengthening family bonds (Kong et al., 2021). These connections would also be particularly protective during emotional challenges experienced within families (Nocentini et al., 2022).

Specific parenting challenges with adolescents

34Adolescence is a period characterized by a demand for independence from family and by the establishment of vital links with peer groups and friends (Papalia et al., 2018). During the pandemic, adolescent boys and girls were forced to give up many in-person contacts and activities over long periods of time, all while they were in close physical contact with their families (Bilodeau et al., 2021). A review of studies (Martin-Storey et al., 2021) identified that one segment of this population had to contend with psychological difficulties related to the pandemic (heightened feeling of loneliness, distress, depression), while another was little affected or even experienced an improvement in mood. A Canadian study (Craig et al., 2022) found that in adolescents, family stresses related to confinement and domestic violence contributed to increased depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficits and oppositional behaviours. In the U.S., tensions within the parental couple, primarily linked to loss of employment and increased disagreements, also had a negative impact on adolescent mental health (Low and Mounts, 2022). A U.S. longitudinal study conducted after the first two waves of COVID-19 (Cassinat et al., 2021) showed that family stress increased over the course of the pandemic, leading to family disorganization and dysfunction. European studies found similar but sometimes contradictory trends. While Donker et al. (2021) noted a decline in parental support and positive parenting in the Dutch context during the pandemic, they also found that the level of parental stress and of their adolescents did not seem to influence the quality of their relationships. Other Dutch studies of adolescents indicated that while parents, who were more flexible during the lockdowns, contributed to a decrease in psychological disorders (Burgard et al., 2022), a reconsideration of house rules (norms regarding visits with friends, use of technology) and daily routines (hygiene, schedules, homework, etc.) did not significantly affect the parent-adolescent relationship (Bülow et al., 2021). These observations may thus suggest a high level of resilience in the parent-adolescent relationship. In Spain, a study on emotional and resilience strategies in parent-adolescent dyads (Trejo et al., 2020) showed that the emotional inadequacy of some parents was correlated with negative family climate and problematic strategies for regulating the emotions of some adolescents. These observations underscored the importance of considering reciprocal interactions to better understand the complexity of the impact of COVID-19 on parent-adolescent relationships. In China, Zhen et al. (2022) also noted that positive communication between parents and teens helped to maintain a healthy family climate and limit the effects of post-traumatic stress.

35LGBTQ+ youth reported more frequent deterioration in their quality of life, as observed, for example, in Ontario, Canada, (Abramovich et al., 2022) and Great Britain (LGBT Foundation, 2022). These and other studies, such as those by Fish et al. (2020) and Salerno et al. (2021), also highlighted a spike in homeless youth who sought accommodation outside the family home (emergency services, street, group or transitional housing, shelters) after their parents rejected them because of their gender identity or sexual orientation and subjected them to abuse (verbal, emotional and physical). These studies also shed light on the significant deterioration in mental health of these young people (severe anxiety, deep depression, self-harm, suicide attempts, and drug and alcohol use), which was even more prevalent among racialized subgroups (African American, Indigenous, other) of LGBTQ+ youth (Ormiston and Williams, 2022). A transnational study (Gato et al., 2021), conducted in Latin America (Chile and Brazil) and Europe (Portugal, Great Britain, Italy, Sweden) among LGBTQ+ young adults who were confined with their parents during COVID-19, also found a higher rate of symptoms of depression among the younger, less educated, unemployed, who were living in a non-European country. They felt more emotionally affected by COVID-19, less comfortable at home, and more isolated from their heterosexual friends. Respondents from Latin America also reported greater difficulties in talking about their identity with their families during lockdown, compared to European LGBTQ+ youth, probably because of variations in norms of acceptance of gender identities and sexual orientations.

Added difficulties for families with children with disabilities

36The impact of the pandemic and the lockdown on families with children who had neurodevelopmental disabilities (autism spectrum, cerebral palsy, attention deficit, hyperactivity, intellectual disability, communication and learning motor disorders) were also the subject of several international studies that revealed the specific and shared challenges of these families (Nicholas et al., 2022). As with all families, some faced significant job and income losses (Urizar et al., 2021). A study of immigrant families in the U.S. (Neece et al., 2020) noted that, with their loss of income, many families were no longer able to afford their daily needs, especially food, but also caring for their children.

37These difficulties were related to the closure or reduction of resources and services (support agencies, mental health services, home support, therapies, technologies, etc.) and of specialized schools (Asbury and Toseeb, 2022). In this situation, families with children who required special care experienced a substantial increase in family hardship. This especially affected mothers, who often had to ask their employers for time off or even had to give up their jobs, as observed in the U.S. (Neece et al., 2020), Canada (Nicholas et al., 2022), Israel (Hochman et al., 2022) and France (Varengue et al., 2022). Most of the families who had a child with a disability also reported serious difficulties in managing their child and noted various psychological consequences (isolation, feeling overwhelmed, anxiety, family pressures, feelings of uncertainty about the future) (Nicholas et al., 2022). Studies carried out in China (Ren et al., 2020), Saudi Arabia (Alhuzimi, 2021) and Turkey (Kaba and Çoşkun, 2022) showed that the parents of these disabled children were particularly anxious. An Israeli study (Hochman et al., 2022) reported that the pandemic forced these parents to take on, new functions, in addition to their usual tasks (employment, domestic tasks and other responsibilities). These included teaching to ensure the ongoing support of online education and care, the maintenance of complex routines related to the specific needs of their children, and the management of sibling conflicts. A study on Dutch mothers (Embregts et al., 2021) noted their concerns about their children's future and their fears of not being able to access intensive care units if their child were to contract the virus. Protecting children with disabilities from COVID-19 gave rise to additional parental concerns, such as the need for implementing new protocols to limit the risk of infection, as observed in Bolivia (Urizar et al., 2021) and France (Zaouche-Gaudron et al., 2022). In England (Asbury and Toseeb. 2022), in addition to general and personal difficulties, and those caused by delayed schooling and child care, one study highlighted concerns about parental succession in the event of COVID-19-related death.

38However, not all families with special-needs children experienced a worsening in their level of anxiety, as identified by French (Guidotti et al., 2022), Italian (Montirosso et al., 2021) and Israeli (Hochman et al., 2022) researchers. Their studies highlight the critical importance of resilience factors (good self-perception, planning for the future, family cohesion) in regulating children’s behaviour and parental stress. In Canada (Nicholas et al., 2022), the pandemic was an opportunity for some families to strengthen their bonds and empower themselves, with help from online programs, for example. In the U.S. (Neece et al., 2020), access to online services also helped some families reduce stress by decreasing the time spent travelling to medical appointments. In the Netherlands (Embregts et al., 2021) and England (Asbury and Toseeb., 2022), informal strategies were developed (assistance from neighbours and partial use of private daycare, use of outside providers) to provide parents with quiet time and a more peaceful family environment, demonstrating the resilience of families and the new strategies that can emerge during a health crisis.

Reconfiguring the relationship between elderly parents, children and grandchildren

39The measures put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the most vulnerable, especially young children and the elderly, resulted in many families giving up face-to-face meetings for varying periods of time. For example, parents who had previously been able to rely on the support of grandparents to care for their grandchildren no longer had this option. The pandemic thus brought to light the invisible and unpaid contribution that grandparents make to the social economy (Cantillon et al., 2021).

40Most of the studies that focused on grandparent-grandchild relationships during the epidemic also primarily addressed the impact of lockdowns on these relationships. Studies in the U.S. (Strouse et al., 2021), Australia (Strutt et al., 2021) and Spain (Alonso Ruiz et al., 2022) noted how little effect the lockdowns had on the frequency of contact between these two generations. The authors of these studies even noted an increase in contacts between grandparents and grandchildren, particularly with the use of IT (telephone, video, text message and email). In Belgium, an analysis of videos posted on TikTok by grandchildren for their grandparents (Nouwen and Duflos, 2022) revealed the variations in these relationships and the dominant intergenerational solidarity: an affectionate solidarity (affectionate gestures while adhering to rules for distancing, wearing protective clothing or using protective barriers; celebrations of family events; expressions of sadness and longing); associative solidarity (TikTok challenges and entertainment related to dance activities, meetings in doorways and gardens, etc.); functional solidarity (sharing domestic tasks, technical support, exchanges of homemade food, gifts); normative solidarity (methods of welcoming a new child into the family, announcement of a pregnancy, verifying whether health standards are followed); and structural solidarity (common living arrangements). The lockdowns also brought to light the resiliency, new strategies and digital practices of the different generations to stay connected.

The impact of COVID-19 on older adults

41Several studies found that compliance with health guidelines was lower among older adults compared to that of their children’s generations (Zhang et al., 2022). These same studies indicated that this population tended to be less panicked by the threat of the virus and felt less threatened than the general population. By contrast, it seems that their children were extremely concerned about their health. A meta-analysis of the impact of the pandemic on the older population conducted in eleven economically developed countries (Williams et al., 2021) nonetheless revealed significant variations according to type of impact and social and national contexts. Financially, the elderly in the U.S. seem to have been most affected, especially those in minority groups (Latinos, African Americans). Germany and Switzerland reported less significant impacts. For people suffering from chronic health conditions, the U.S. was the worst place to be, particularly due to postponed or cancelled medical appointments. Support services, including home care, were also cancelled or severely reduced in the U.S., as they were in Australia and Canada (Palmer et al., 2022). Canadian statistical data (Statistiques Canada, 2021) collected in 2020 and 2021 found that nearly half of those aged 65 and older were concerned about the consequences of COVID-19 on their health, and that the majority continued to follow health guidelines after lockdown by wearing a mask and avoiding crowds. Nearly one-third stated that they had experienced a marked or severe deterioration of their well-being. A number of studies, reported by Herron et al. (2022), conducted in various countries (Canada, the U.S., Spain, the Netherlands), noted that older adults were less affected than younger people in terms of their mental health (anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder). This review highlighted various resilience strategies (positive thinking, optimism, gratitude, acceptance, domestic and outdoor activities, maintaining relationships with neighbours, socially-distanced relationships with friends and family, participation in activities of local or national organizations). Luchetti et al. (2020) and Igarashi et al. (2022) observed the importance in the U.S. of supporting community organizations to maintain the well-being of adults aged 50 and older.

42Conversely, several studies showed a more frequent decline in the mental health of older adults. A study of adults aged 50 and over in 28 countries (Wand et al., 2020) found an increase in psychological disorders (anxiety, depression, sleep problems) related to COVID-19. In England, Robb et al. (2020) noted that social isolation increased depression and anxiety in older people, particularly single, widowed or divorced women, who lived alone and felt lonely. Most research has recognized the problematic impacts of the isolation measures on people living in retirement homes. In the U.S., Wu (2020) reported on the negative effects of prohibiting outside visitors, including family members, on the mental and physical health of seniors. In Canada, the analysis by Meloche (2022), based on several studies of living conditions in Canadian seniors’ residences, also reported on measures that prohibited visitors and limited internet access. The severe conditions of isolation were exacerbated by institutional mistreatment due to overburdened and exhausted health care personnel. In addition, the long-term physical inactivity of the residents reduced their independence and had harmful effects on their physical and mental health (negative emotions, reduced functional abilities, cognitive decline, anxiety, sleep disorders, depression, distress).

Missing out on end of life, funeral rites and grieving

43COVID-19 caused many deaths, especially among the most vulnerable. Many died in hospitals, in intensive care units, or in COVID-19 geriatric units. As noted by Maeker et al. (2020) in France and by Petry et al. (2021) in the U.S., strategies for transferring people with the virus and conveying the diagnosis to the family could not be carried out in the usual manner. Because of physical distancing, families were usually informed about the health status of their loved ones by telephone. In addition, they were often unable to visit their ill family members, to accompany them to their medical appointments, to be with them during end-of-life care and in their dying moments. This frequently caused family members great distress. Throughout the lockdowns, the use of telephones and tablets to maintain virtual contact helped somewhat to take the place of the closeness, which is normal in these situations (Rolling and Barresi, 2022). According to Ismé and Michel (2021), the inability of populations in Indigenous communities to perform healing rituals also contributed to reducing social and family cohesion, and generated misunderstanding and distress.

44Funeral rites were also disrupted under the pandemic conditions. In France (Maeker et al.; 2020), in the early days of the pandemic, families could not be with their deceased loved ones, so subsequently, accommodations were made to allow them at least to see their faces. For many people, the absence of funeral rites impeded the grieving process (Rolling et Barresi, 2021). In Portugal (Aguiar et al., 2022), disruptions in end-of-life and funeral rites were often traumatic because they did not allow for the expression of traditional forms of comfort and farewell. In England (Routen et al., 2021), Afro-British and South Asian minorities were particularly affected by health measures for funeral rites where practices were prohibited or modified (inability to attend funeral services and burial, inability to visit family, remote support only, lack of physical contact with relatives). In the U.S. (Petry et al., 2021), funeral services were also reduced, and the number of people who could attend was restricted. To allow the extended family to participate, funeral services were gradually transmitted as video conferences. In Indonesia (Nurhayati and Purnama, 2021), clerics received training in COVID-19 guidelines so that they could perform funeral rites in hospitals. This reduced tensions within the families of deceased COVID-19 victims who had been prohibited from carrying out the appropriate Muslim practices and rites, including the rituals of washing the deceased, wrapping them in a shroud and burying them.

45Disease and death under pandemic conditions had a significant impact on the mental health of bereaved individuals, and their distress is likely to continue (Petry et al., 2021). In Portugal, Aguiar et al. (2022) observed that bereaved people reported a heightened fear of death, feelings of loneliness, sleep and concentration problems, increased anxiety and depression, and concerns about the evolution of the pandemic. Some also experienced traumatic grief, especially when they believed they had infected the deceased (Rolling and Barresi, 2021). As Gonçalves et al. (2020) suggest, it is through these individual and traumatic bereavements that society is confronted with its own fragility.

Thematic contributions to this issue

46The thematic articles published in this issue of Enfances Familles Générations contribute to the research and reflections on the impact of a health crisis on families and generations. Drawing on research conducted in various socio-cultural contexts (Spain, France, Quebec) and using a variety of methodological approaches (quantitative, qualitative, and mixed), these six articles enrich the knowledge and perspectives on the individual, social, and familial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

47The article by Sophie Mathieu and Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay focuses on the experience of work-family balance before and during the pandemic in Quebec. The three quantitative surveys on which it is based indicate, as has already been pointed out in various studies cited above, that the crisis created greater difficulties for mothers than fathers. The article by Mathieu and Tremblay points out that parents believed it was easier to achieve family-work balance in 2020 and 2021. The authors posit that, despite the limitations of the data, these results show that the introduction of telework, the support offered by employers, and the family policies developed in Quebec over the last 25 years – all protect the family-work balance.

48Ève Pouliot, Christiane Bergeron-Leclerc, Danielle Maltais, Jacques Cherblanc, Jacinthe Dion, Pascale Dubois, Ann-Sophie Simard, Gabrielle Ross, Anne-Renée Gravel, Oscar Labra, Cathy Vaillancourt and Taha Abderrafie Moalla also look at family-work balance in Quebec, but more specifically among university employees, both male and female, who have children under the age of 12. Data collected from an online questionnaire between April and June 2020 identify moderate or high work-family conflicts in this population and highlight some factors that may contribute to or adversely affect the balance. Recommendations are proposed to academic institutions, such as providing respite measures for parents to help them balance family and professional responsibilities more effectively.

49The article by Miguel David Guevara Espinar and Joseph Josy Lévy examines the consequences of lockdowns following the COVID-19 pandemic among Spanish students at the University of Salamanca. Based on interviews, this study shows various ways to cope with confinement and how to set up new routines for a better quality of life. It also highlights the various facets of this experience, the diversity of the psychosocial networks, resilience strategies and existential perspectives brought about by this exceptional situation.

50Using a mixed methodology (questionnaires and interviews), Catherine Dessinges looks at the consequences of the pandemic on French families with children under the age of 12. The author observes a spike in activities shared between parents and children, yet with significant differences in leisure activities, family and social configurations and employment status by parental gender. Dessinges emphasizes that intra-family social life sparked enthusiasm for audiovisual content, whereas information technologies were generally used to sustain connections outside the home.

51Évelyne Barthou and Yann Bruna use a mixed methodology (questionnaires and interviews) to show how, under certain family and socio-economic conditions in France, the (re)cohabitation of young adults and their parents helped reinforce family bonds. The authors emphasize the central role of the family in the construction of the self, which plays a role of reassuring, supporting, recognizing and valuing young adults, as well as distancing and empowering them. In their article, Isabel Côté, Christine Gervais, Sophie Doucet and Vicky Lafantaisie use a child-centred approach to focus on the grandparent/grandchild relationship and the strategies for coping with social and health care measures, chiefly physical distancing. Their study notes that grandchildren were concerned about their grandparents’ health, but nevertheless wanted to continue face-to-face contact despite the risks of contamination. Lastly, this study highlights affectionate intergenerational bonding despite physical separation.

52In addition to individual and social hardships, and the emergence of new family, generational and community solidarity and resilience, this introductory article and the six related thematic articles in this issue ultimately contribute to showing how families and their members function and organize themselves in the context of a pandemic. They also illustrate how individuals are perceived, treated and controlled, and how they act, feel and defend themselves during a health crisis. Lastly, the articles emphasize the importance, fragility and strength of social bonds, and the challenges of living together.

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Laurence Charton, Léoni Labrecque et Joseph Josy Lévy, « The COVID-19 Pandemic: Global Impacts on Families »Enfances Familles Générations [En ligne], 40 | 2022, mis en ligne le 24 mai 2022, consulté le 10 décembre 2023. URL :

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Laurence Charton

professeure agrégée, Institut national de la recherche scientifique, Centre Urbanisation Culture Société (INRS-UCS) (Canada)

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Léoni Labrecque

étudiante au baccalauréat en psychologie à l’université du Québec à Chicoutimi, stagiaire INRS-UCS

Joseph Josy Lévy

professeur associé, Département de sexologie, Université du Québec à Montréal (Canada)

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