Digested Research: Children and Parental Care

The extent of elderly adult parental care carried-out by children is an increasingly important one, particularly in Western societies like Britain and America where an ageing population demographic places increasing strains on both public and private heath care systems.

Sociologically, questions about “Who does it?” and “How much do they do?” are also important at Advanced and High School level because they address a further dimension to the domestic labour debate as families become increasingly involved in elderly adult parental care, namely the extent to which this kind of domestic labour is gendered.  Not only, as Grigoryeva (2014) notes, in terms of the traditional focus on “how spouses share housework” but increasingly in terms of parental care.


Grigoryeva’s research was based on an analysis of the US Health and Retirement Survey (HRS) – “a nationally representative longitudinal panel study of the non-institutionalized U.S. population over age 50”. The HRS surveys a representative sample of approximately 20,000 each year using a postal self-report questionnaire.

This, in other words, was a primary analysis of representative secondary statistical data for a specific social group: parents over 50, living at home and receiving some form of intra-family care.

The Health and Retirement Survey data was particularly useful for Grigoryeva’s research because it provided extensive data on 3 key areas:

1. Family structure and connections: the latter included extensive information about the children of the parents under family care.

2. Social, economic and health information about both the care needs of the elderly respondents and the status of their adult children.

3. Data on a range of different dimensions to parent-child relationships, including estimates of the time each sibling spent on care for their elderly parents.


A broad summary of the research’s findings suggest:

1. The gender gap in the amount of time male and female children spent of providing care to their parents was “pronounced and statistically significant”. This remained true “even after adjusting for other factors” than gender.

2. Daughters in the survey provided an average of just over 12 hours (12.3) of elderly parent care per month.

3. Sons in the survey provided an average of nearly 6 hours (5.6) of elderly parent care per month.

4. Daughters spend twice as much time providing care to elderly parents than sons.

5. Women’s caregiving is more “responsive or elastic”, in terms of time and resources spent tending to their parents’ needs.

6. Caregiving efforts are affected by having a sibling of the opposite sex / gender. Sons do relatively less caregiving when they have a sister while the reverse is true for daughters: their caregiving increases if they have a brother.

As Grigoryeva concludes, “These results lend more evidence to the gender inequality in another realm of unpaid domestic labor (sic): elder parent care”.


Angelina Grigoryeva (2014) “When Gender Trumps Everything: The Division of Parent Care Among Siblings”: Princeton University

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