SOCIAL ROLES, KINSHIP RESOURCES, AND THE HEALTH OF AGED FAMILY MEMBERS IN THE U.S. AND HUNGARY
Karen Altergott, Robert A. Lewis
The central question of this chapter is: Do family and kin relationships reduce the risk of poor health for older people in Hungary and the United States?
Health and well-being in later life are topics of great importance in all nations. Older people who remain healthy and well-functioning experience a higher quality of life, continue to perform socially and personally rewarding roles, and are less likely to require social and medical care. Many researchers have examined the ameliorative role of family and kin in assisting older people who can no longer function due to illness or disability.
Several literatures suggest that family roles and kinship involvement benefit the individual. The mental and physical health of married people, for example, is generally better than the health of nonmarried individuals ( Kessler and Essex, 1982; Verbrugge, 1983). A new literature on multiple roles suggests the advantages of a variety of social relationships are anything but trivial. The well-being of adults seems to be enhanced by the maintenance of social relations. Of course, the kinship literature itself suggests that the extensive and intensive kinship system benefits individuals both concretely, through the exchange of resources, and subjectively, through support of various kinds ( Palisi, 1985; Adams, 1968). Although kinship should not be romanticized, and some of the most painful experiences in human life may result from kin relations, the general suggestion is that kin availability and interaction may benefit the health of the older people.
This chapter takes a comparative perspective to study the effect of