Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Assisting Parents and In-Laws: Gender, Type of Assistance, and Couples' Employment

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Assisting Parents and In-Laws: Gender, Type of Assistance, and Couples' Employment

Article excerpt

We use 1995 MIDUS data (n = 2,085) to assess whether the gender gap in help persists across different types of help (unpaid task assistance, emotional support, financial assistance) to parents and in-laws. We also examine whether joint employment patterns influence levels of help. Persistent gender differences are identified in levels of emotional support to parents and in-laws: Women spend more time than men giving this help. There are no gender differences in levels of unpaid task assistance or financial assistance to parents or in-laws. Individuals in single-earner couples, however, provide greater levels of unpaid task assistance to in-laws and financial assistance to parents than individuals in dual-earner couples. Furthermore, financial assistance to parents is positively linked to work hours.

Key Words: caregiving, dual-earner, paid work, social support, time use.

Prior research has established that women gener- ally spend more time helping their parents than men do (Candan & Oliker, 2000; Chumbler, Pienta, & Dwyer, 2004; Gerstel & Gallagher, 1994; Laditka & Laditka, 2000; Sarkisian & Gerstel, 2004). We know much less about whether gender shapes other forms of parental help, such as financial assistance. Although the source of the gender gap in time-based help to parents is not fully understood, a handful of studies suggest that differential employment and the characteristics of men's and women's jobs structure time-based help to relatives (Cancian & Oliker; Chumbler et al.; Gerstel & Gallagher, 1994; Laditka & Laditka, 2000; Sarkisian & Gerstel). Moreover, previous research indicates that the amount of financial support given to parents tends to be positively linked to household income and wage rates (Couch, Daly, & Wolf, 1999; Zissimopoulos, 2001), which suggests that employment plays a role in influencing other types of assistance as well.

Understanding the processes that shape different types of informal help is important because meeting the support needs of kin promotes independent living among older relatives (Antonucci, 1990), protects their physical and psychological health (Allen, Blieszner, & Roberto, 2000; Janevic et al., 2004), and enhances their levels of Ufe satisfaction (Krause, 2004). A focus on supplemental financial help to older relatives is important, given declining pensions and government supports for older individuals. Furthermore, it is also generally established that women's caregiving time is linked to increased psychological strain and diminished physical health (Pavalko & Woodbury, 2000), underscoring concerns about negative health consequences that accrue to particular groups providing greater levels of relative support. Overall, documenting how employment structures the provision of time and money support to parents and other kin becomes increasingly critical as the proportion of potential helpers who are employed rises.

Although much has been learned about the relationship among gender, employment, and help to relatives, there are three existing gaps in current knowledge. First, it is not clear whether there are gender differences in levels of both time and money help. Second, previous research has not clearly tested how gender and joint patterns of employment influence the provision of time and money help by workers, in spite of evidence that indicates that the amount of help provided is a function of household, not individual, resources (Boaz, Hu, & Ye, 1999). Finally, the vast majority of previous studies focus on help to parents (E. Lee, Spitze, & Logan, 2003). Thus, it is not clear whether the same processes that govern adult children's provision of help to parents also underlie help to other relatives.

This study extends previous research by providing information that addresses each of these gaps. We utilize nationally representative data from the 1995 Midlife in the United States Study (MIDUS) to address two questions. …

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