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Dramatic changes in family structure have altered the care of disabled elderly parents

Research Activities, July 2009, No. 347

Since the 1970s there have been profound changes in family structure in the United States that have the potential to alter the care received by disabled elderly parents from their children, according to a new study by Barbara Steinberg Schone, Ph.D., of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and colleagues. They used data from the Asset and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old survey to estimate the joint probabilities that an adult child provides time and/or cash transfers to a parent.

The estimates suggest significant detrimental effects of parental divorce and step relationships on support of disabled elderly parents. For example, children were significantly less likely to provide care to their disabled parent if the parent was divorced versus widowed. Children of divorced parents were about half as likely as children of widowed parents to co-reside with a parent and their parents were more likely to live alone or in a nursing home. Children with parents who remarried were less likely to provide cash transfers and more likely to have a parent who was in a nursing home.

Biological children with no siblings were four times more likely than single stepchildren to provide time (26 vs. 7.7 percent) or cash (13.5 vs. 2.9 percent) to their disabled parents. Also, stepchildren were significantly less likely than biological children to co-reside with the parent (1.8 vs. 7.9 percent) and more likely to have a parent living alone or in a nursing home (63.6 vs. 60.6 percent and 10.6 vs. 7.5 percent, respectively). Children in traditional nuclear families were significantly more likely to provide cash and time transfers than children in blended families (with stepchildren). Similarly, children of parents in blended families were less likely to co-reside with the parent and slightly more likely to have their parent live with other relatives or nonrelatives than children in traditional nuclear families, suggesting that the sibling network also matters.

See "Parental marital disruption, family type, and transfers to disabled elderly parents," by Liliana E. Pezzin, Ph.D., J.D., Robert A. Pollak, Ph.D., and Dr. Schone, in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences 63B(6), pp. 5349-5358, 2008.

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Current as of July 2009
Internet Citation: Dramatic changes in family structure have altered the care of disabled elderly parents: Research Activities, July 2009, No. 347. July 2009. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://archive.ahrq.gov/news/research-activities/jul09/0709RA23.html