Wednesday, June 12

New Study Points to Traditional Gender Roles in Elderly Parent Care: Daughters Give More Than Sons

As Mom and Dad age, it’s daughters — not sons — who are more likely to provide care for their elderly parents, according to a new study.

The research, presented in a paper to the American Sociological Association in San Francisco, was conducted by Angelina Grigoryeva, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Princeton University. Grigoryeva’s study concluded that daughters of aging parents provide an average of 12.3 hours of care per month, as opposed to sons’ care, which averaged out to 5.6 hours per month.

Overall, the study found that in families with sons and daughters, gender tended to determine which child would perform care-giving duties.

In fact, daughters tended to not only spend more time with an elderly parent, but sons would actually reduce their time if they had a sister taking care of that parent.

In addition to time, physical and mental stress and financial burdens were also more heavily placed on women. Because women spent more time with aging parents, they tended to take on greater responsibilities in providing care.

Much of the findings, said Grigoryeva, had to do with traditional gender roles. Women often determined their level of care based on their other concerns, such as their jobs or their children; men, however, would provide care based on the responsibilities that a sister or parent’s spouse already had.

However, Grigoryeva also said the data suggested a shift toward gender equality in the United States over the past few decades, as the care no longer falls solely to women. The balance is still “acute,” she said, when caring for elderly parents.

“Normally it is the eldest daughter who supports the parents, and traditionally this is the way it’s been. The general trend that I have noticed is that it’s usually the ‘responsible’ sibling – which is not necessarily the oldest,” says Jon Scott Williams, Executive Director at Fellowship Square-Mesa. “80% of the time though, this is the eldest daughter. Whenever there is no daughter located in the same town, it often goes to the son – the son then often puts it on the wife which causes lots of stress in the family. Talking about these things ahead of time is the best way to address these situations to avoid family stress.”

The paper, titled “When Gender Trumps Everything: The Division of Parent Care Among Siblings,” used data from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study. UofM’s study surveyed more than 26,000 people over the age of 50 every two years.

Grigoryeva’s paper has not yet been published, as it is a “working paper” typical of the presentations at ASA annual meetings.

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