Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Do Religious Children Care More and Provide More Care for Older Parents? A Study of Filial Norms and Behaviors across Five Nations*

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Do Religious Children Care More and Provide More Care for Older Parents? A Study of Filial Norms and Behaviors across Five Nations*

Article excerpt


Much of the literature on the nonnative obligation to provide care to older parents centers on its role in motivating supportive behavior. However, most studies find that the relationship between norms and behavior in the domain of parent care is weak or holds true only under particular circumstances (Silverstein, Cans & Yang, 2006; Silverstein, Parrott, & Bengtson, 1995). While previous studies have noted the complexity of the relationship between filial norms and filial behavior, little is known about the societal and religious contexts within which normative obligations are enacted into actual support. This investigation examines the correspondence between filial norms and supportive behavior of adult children toward their older parents in four European countries (Norway, England, Spain, and Germany) and Israel, emphasizing the role of religiosity in the development and enactment of filial norms in those national contexts.

Despite recent gains in the longevity of older adults, many of the years added to life are accompanied by chronic conditions and experienced with frailty (Freedman, Schoeni, Martin, & Cornman, 2007). As a result, adult children are likely to spend prolonged periods of time assisting aging parents. However, increasing demand for eldercare is not matched by an increasing supply of potential family caregivers as a result of declining fertility, delayed parenthood, elevated rates of divorce and remarriage, and increased labor force participation of women (Easterlin, Schaeffer, & Macunovich, 1993). In such an environment, it is imperative to understand the ideological and structural conditions that promote or inhibit the development of normative obligations to support aging parents, as well as the conditions that encourage or impede the translation of such commitment into actual support.


Despite growing evidence of the importance of religion in family life (Chatters& Taylor, 2005; Mahoney, Pargament, Tarakeshwar & Swank, 2001) and its obvious relevance as a normative factor in family decision-making, only few papers have addressed the role of religiosity in intergenerational relationships.

From the somewhat sparse literature on this topic, three general aspects of religion that are likely to shape intergenerational supportive relationships emerge: religious doctrines that prescribe appropriate behavior toward older parents; religious values emphasizing compassion and reinforcing helping behaviors; and institutional structures as well as religious rituals reinforcing strong intergenerational bonds and commitment to family members.

Doctrinal aspects of religion are best summarized by the dictate of the Old Testament to honor one's father and mother, a filial prescription made in various forms by virtually all religions of the world. Individuals who are more involved in practicing religion through both the public sphere (participation in religious services) and the private sphere (family prayers, personal salience of religion) are more likely to be exposed to messages that promote strong family commitment (Pearce & Axinn, 1998). Moreover, co-religionists can reinforce positive adherence and performance of desired family norms as well as provide role models for preferred family behaviors and place informal sanctions on those deviating from desired norms (Chatters & Taylor, 2005; Ellison, 1997).

Religious teachings also inculcate collectivistic values that encourage service to the most vulnerable members of society (Ellison, 1997; Myers, 2004). Dollahite and Marks (2005) suggest that religion creates a sense of community supportiveness from which evolves "deep and abiding caring relationships" (p. 537). It is likely that individuals who are so influenced by their religious orientations are more inclined to provide support to needy parents. Additionally, some religious organizations provide formal education programs such as family life education, which explicitly promote and support desired family behaviors including care for frail parents (Chatters & Taylor, 2005). …

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