Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Does It Hurt to Care? Caregiving, Work-Family Conflict, and Midlife Well-Being

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Does It Hurt to Care? Caregiving, Work-Family Conflict, and Midlife Well-Being

Article excerpt

This study examined the effects of caregiving for disabled children, spouses, parents, and other kin and nonkin on multiple positive and negative dimensions of psychological well-being and development using data from a population sample of employed, middle-aged men and women respondents in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study 1992-1993 (n = 5,782). A life course role-identity theoretical framework was employed to hypothesize that contemporary social organization leads to conflicting demands across the role identities of employee and caregiver and that this conflict is an important factor in accounting for the negative effects of caregiving on well-being. Multivariate regression analyses confirmed these hypotheses and further revealed that if differences in work and family conflict between caregivers and noncaregivers were eliminated, the caregiving role would more often lead to positive effects on well-being.

Key Words: caregiving, midlife, psychological well-being, work-family conflict.

Understanding the consequences of assuming the role of caregiver to a disabled family member or friend is becoming an increasingly important private and public issue. Population estimates of caregiving now make it clear that the caregiving role is not a rare event in the life course (N. Marks, 1996; Stone, Cafferata, & Sangl, 1987). The prevalence of caregiving for the frail and the disabled peaks for adults in midlife when about one in five women and men provide some degree of care. This fact has led to recent scholarly interest in tracking the wellbeing of middle-aged women and men who often are faced with demanding multiple-role responsibilities related to family, employment, and community (Brody, 1981, 1985, 1990). The prevalence of caregiving responsibility for elders is also expected to increase as the United States and the world become an increasingly aging and aged society (Coward, Home, & Dwyer, 1992). Demographic trends toward longer lives, smaller families, higher rates of divorce, lower rates of marriage and remarriage, and higher rates of women's employment have led to predictions that caregiving for frail and disabled family members will fall on relatively fewer shoulders in the years ahead and that the risk of becoming a caregiver at some time or at multiple times over the life course is likely to increase (Coward et al., 1992; N. Marks, 1996; Moen, Robison, & Fields 1994).

Caregiving research to date suggests that providing care for the frail and disabled leads to increased distress and burden (Schulz, Visintainer, & Williamson, 1990). There is also some evidence that caring for disabled family members is associated with poorer personal health (N. Marks, 1996; Schulz et al., 1990). However, most studies of caregiving are based on nonrepresentative samples that often include only women caregivers and lack a comparison group of noncaregivers. Research on the consequences of caregiving has focused predominantly on documenting the negative effects of caregiving; potential benefits related to the caregiving role are yet to be well investigated (Kramer, 1997).

A sizable proportion of caregivers today are faced with blending the often contradictory behavioral expectations that accompany the roles of employee and the caregiver (N. Marks, 1996; Stone et al., 1987). Previous studies of employed caregivers have noted reports of considerable concerns about work-family conflict among caregivers (Scharlach & Boyd, 1989; Stone et al., 1987). Yet there is only limited evidence thus far (e.g., Gerstel & Gallagher, 1993) that addresses how many of the negative consequences of caregiving among employed persons are a result of taking on the caregiving role, itself, and how many can be accounted for by role overload.

This study addresses this issue. Guided by a life course role-identity perspective, this investigation first examines associations between contrasting types of caregiving for disabled persons (i. …

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