Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Transition to Parent Care: Costs, Commitments, and Caregiver Selection among Children

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Transition to Parent Care: Costs, Commitments, and Caregiver Selection among Children

Article excerpt

Current estimates indicate that around 20 mil- lion Americans provide care to their frail parents (Connidis, 2010; National Alliance for Caregiv- ing & AARP, 2009). Some of these caregivers share the responsibility equitably with their sib- lings (Matthews, 1987; Matthews & Rosner, 1988). In the majority of families, however, a child who acts as primary provider to an aging parent has siblings who are largely exempted from caregiving responsibilities (Checkovich & Stern, 2002). In life course terms, some siblings experience the transition to parent care whereas others do not.

How does this occur? In the extensive literature on family caregiving, this question has been almost entirely ignored. Of course, the literature is replete with findings on the characteristics of caregivers as well as the consequences of caregiving. There are two gaps in existing knowledge, however, that preclude a comprehensiveunderstandingofadultchildren's transition into the role of a primary caregiver.

First, although entering this role is commonly recognized as a key transition in later life, most studies provide only cross-sectional, post hoc assessments of parent care (e.g., Henretta, Soldo, & Van Voorhis, 2011; Hogan, Eggebeen, & Clogg, 1993). In a similar vein, existing longitudinal research has mainly focused on "caregiving careers" (Brody, 1985), opening the window of observation only after parent care has already been initiated (Dwyer, Henretta, Coward, & Barton, 1992; Szinovacz & Davey, 2007, 2013). Obviously, these designs do not allow tracing the process of caregiver selection.

Second, although caregiving is commonly recognized as a phenomenon most frequently situated within a larger family context, the majority of studies have looked only at selected caregiving relationships in isolation from this context. Regarding transitions to parent care, this analytical approach permits only between- family comparisons of parent-child dyads selected from different families, thus ignoring the group of siblings as complementary or alternative providers. In this regard, a number of within-family studies of parent care have provided important insight into differences between siblings. Regarding transitions to parent care, however, conclusions remain preliminary, becausetheprocessofcaregiverselectionamong siblings has been explored only in cross section, either prospectively (Pillemer & Suitor, 2006) or retrospectively (Henretta, Hill, Li, Soldo, & Wolf, 1997).

In the present study, we addressed both gaps of research by investigating the transition to parent care (a) longitudinally and (b) from a within-family perspective. On the basis of this design, we aimed to contribute to the literature in three main ways. First, at a general level, we offer a quantitative assessment of the process of caregiver selection among siblings. Our approach allowed us not only to trace the transition to parent care over time but also to examine the selection of a caregiver as an outcome determined by the relative constellation of caregiving costs and commitments within families. Second, more specifically, we studied the importance of numerous characteristics that varied among siblings and appeared likely to constitute key factors bearing on the process of caregiver selection. It is important to note that our data allowed us to reach beyond simple rational choice frameworks, considering not only siblings' relative costs in terms of availability and constraints but also indicators for their normative and affective commitments to parent care. Third, we were able to assess the importance of these characteristics before actual transitions to parent care. Compared to previous within-family studies of parent care, this panel approach yielded critical benefits in dealing with endogeneity of crucial predictor variables such as employment status, geographical distance, and contact frequency.

For the empirical analyses, we used data from six waves (1998-2008) of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS; http://hrsonline. …

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