Abstract: Paper No. 1

The Division of Family Labor: Care for Elderly Parents

Douglas A. Wolf, Vicki Freedman, and Beth Soldo

August 1995

Abstract:  This paper presents an analysis of children's provision of care to elderly parents, giving particular attention to the consequences of kin structure for the intensity of children's care efforts. The analysis uses data collected in the Asset and Health Dynamics of the Oldest Old (AHEAD) baseline interview, and employs a simultaneous-equations framework that permits the parent-care efforts of each child of a frail elder to adjust to the care efforts of all siblings. Past research has shown that both the total volume of parent care, and the form in which this care effort is shared across siblings, differ according to the size and structure of families, and especially according to the gender composition of a sibling group. Our research confirms and extends these earlier findings. First, while daughters are shown to take on greater parent-care roles, their efforts (like those of sons) adjust to both parental need and the needs of others, including their own children. There is also a suggestion that a given child's own care efforts are reduced, but on much less than a one-for-one basis, as the efforts of siblings are increased. This is consistent with suggestions from prior research that the more children a frail parent has, the greater the total volume of help from children the parent will receive. Perhaps most interesting is the finding that even holding constant own characteristics and, more importantly, the actual caregiving behavior of siblings, a child's willingness to provide parent care is reduced in proportion to the number of sisters he or she has. The prominence of daughters as care providers results in part from their own willingness to provide more hours of care, other things held constant (including the care efforts of their siblings). However, this prominence is reinforced by the siblings' evident tendency to cut back on their own caregiving efforts in proportion to the number of sisters they have.


The revised version of this paper was published in Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 52B (Special Issue), May 1997, pp. 102-109. Those interested in this work should see that journal.