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Tuesday, 24th May 2011

How U.S. Older Adults Provide Care for Their Aging Parents, Adult Children, and Friends

Source: Population Reference Bureau

From the press release:

Most research on the gender gap in unpaid caregiving in the United States has focused on young families. During the childrearing years, women provide the bulk of child care, although the time men spend caring for their children has increased in recent years.

As part of PRB's 2010-2011 Policy Seminar series, Suzanne Bianchi, a University of California Los Angeles sociology professor, examined new research on caregiving in later life—a time when men and women may spend their time in similar ways as they enter their retirement years. The study, conducted with Joan Kahn and Brittany McGill of the University of Maryland, explored whether retirement and marital status made a difference in how men and women helped others. Specifically, they set out to learn whether men replaced paid work with time spent helping others after retirement and whether divorced people spent less time caring for kin, reflecting weakened family ties.

The findings shed light on the costs of caregiving and the quality of life of older people, according to Bianchi. While unpaid caregiving economically disadvantages women by keeping them out of the paid labor force, "there's a flip cost for men," she said. Men who do not help others may be "socially disconnected" and not integrated into the kind of meaningful relationships important at older ages.

Bianchi and her colleagues used data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS), which has tracked a group of Wisconsin high school graduates from the class of 1957 (born in 1939 or 1940) for more than 50 years. Although this group is predominantly white and includes only those with a diploma, it is representative of about two-thirds of the U.S. population in that age group, Bianchi noted.

At ages 54 and 65, participants were asked about the kind of help they gave their adult children, parents, friends, and neighbors in the previous month. Bianchi and her colleagues found that more than 90 percent helped someone in some way, although women outpaced men by about 5 percentage points. Both men and women were most likely to report helping their adult children.

Among those who had adult children at age 54, 10 percent more women than men provided assistance to them—83 percent of women compared with 73 percent of men. Among those with living parents, the same 10 percentage-point gap separated men and women, with 61 percent of women providing help compared to 51 percent of men.

Only men in first marriages said they helped their children at percentage rates similar to women of any marital status. The share of divorced and remarried women who said they helped their adult children ranged between 75 percent and 85 percent; for divorced and remarried men that share ranged between 60 percent and 72 percent. "Depending on when the divorce took place, these men may not have spent a lot of time living with their children," said Bianchi. But whether women remarried or not, they remained connected to their children.

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An Info Pro, librarian, entrepreneur, author, worldwide connector and book-lover, Heather Negley is recognized for her new ways of thinking about librarianship, research, social media and creativity. Heather is the founder of HelpALibrarian.com and Zing Information Services. She has most recently been an Information Research Specialist with the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress where she provided business research for members of Congress and their staffs. Heather also worked as a research reporter for U.S. News and World Report and as a technical advertising producer on the washingtonpost.com. She received her MS in Library and Information Science from Simmons College in Boston, MA.

Heather can be reached at heather.negley@freepint.com

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