Academic journal article Family Relations

Older Caregiving Parents: Division of Household Labor, Marital Satisfaction, and Caregiver Burden*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Older Caregiving Parents: Division of Household Labor, Marital Satisfaction, and Caregiver Burden*

Article excerpt


Based on a sample of 126 families, this study investigated how division of household labor is related to marital satisfaction and caregiving burden among older married parents caring for adult children with intellectual disabilities. For mothers, greater spousal participation in household work and satisfaction with the division of labor were positively related to marital satisfaction. Satisfaction with division of labor also appeared to buffer maternal caregiving stress, decreasing the relationship between behavior problems of the adult child and caregiver burden. For fathers, there was no relationship between division of household labor and marital satisfaction. Behavior problems of the adult child predicted paternal caregiving burden only when men were satisfied with the labor division. Practice implications for professionals working with older caregiving parents are discussed.

Key Words: caregiving burden, family caregivers, household labor, intellectual disabilities, marital satisfaction, older adults.

A considerable body of literature has linked the division of household labor to psychological well-being (Coltrane, 2000). The term "household labor" is often used synonymously with housework, which has been defined as "unpaid work done to maintain family members and/or a home" (Shelton & John, 1996, p. 300). In the majority of studies, household labor refers to concrete household tasks such as housecleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping. Child care, other kinds of caregiving, and emotion work (i.e., tending to family emotional needs) are generally not included in definitions of household tasks (Coltrane, 2000).

This study examines division of household labor in a unique group of married older adults-mothers and fathers who have coresident adult children with intellectual disabilities. In contrast to most other older spouses, these husbands and wives maintain an active parental role, more often referred to as "caregiving." Indeed, of the few studies on division of family work among these older adults, most have focused on assistance given to the son or daughter with a disability (Essex, Seltzer, & Krauss, 2002; Hirst, 1985). Researchers and feminist scholars are concerned that women's shouldering of most caregiving tasks may result in greater caregiving burden for mothers than fathers (Heller, Hsieh, & Rowitz, 1997; Hooyman & Gonyea, 1995). Because caregiving burden implies feeling overwhelmed by demands, we wondered whether it also reflects the extent that a spouse shares in other household tasks.

Even less attention has been given to the relationship between housework and marital satisfaction among married parents of adults with disabilities. In fact, there is a dearth of research on the marital experiences of this group of older adults. However, as with all older spouses, marital satisfaction is an important component of well-being. Strong marital relations are particularly important for caregiving parents because the relationship may also affect the adult child with a disability (Essex, 2002).

In the present examination of parents of adults with intellectual disabilities, we study the relationship between division of household labor and spouses' experiences in bodi the caregiving and marital roles. Our research questions and hypotheses were informed by several bodies of literature, including research on division of housework among older adults in the general population, research on parents of sons and daughters with disabilities, and stress process theory.

Division of Housework and the Well-Being of Older Husbands and Wives

Studies consistently report that wives spend more time in household labor than husbands (Coltrane, 2000). This pattern persists even after the husband has retired from the workforce (Szinovacz, 2000). Tasks are generally divided along stereotypical gender lines: wives carry the responsibility for shopping and most routine tasks within the house, such as cooking, cleaning, caring for clothes, and laundry; men do the less frequent chores of home repairs, yardwork, and other outdoor work. …

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