December 2006 - A new study from the University of Southern California's Leonard Davis School of Gerontology has found that contrary to popular belief, the institution of the family is not in decline. People born in the 1950s and 1960s are more committed to caring for their aging parents than the previous generation were.
Daphna Gans, doctoral candidate at the USC Davis School and lead author said:
"Our study provides evidence to the resilience of families. You expect the younger generation would be lower than the generation before. But our results suggest that families are still able to instill strong attitudes towards familial responsibilities even in light of changing family dynamics and forms."
The study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family is part of a series looking at attitudes and behaviors toward caring for aging parents using the USC Longitudinal Study of Generations following 1627 individuals from 333 families over two generations. Daphna Gans and co-author Merril Silverstein, professor of gerontology and sociology at USC, examined expected behaviors of adult children towards their aging parents between1985-2000.
Researchers found that both generations showed a slight diminution in attitudes towards parental care giving over the 15 years studied. However, the younger generation consistently responded more favorably than the older generation.
The researchers found that the desire to care for an aging parent was greatest at the age of 51 at a time when individuals were most likely to be called upon to provide support. Women consistently expressed a stronger sense of familial obligations than men. Earlier research conducted with Frances Yang of Harvard Medical School and published in Journal of Family Issues showed that daughters were most likely to give support and mothers most likely to receive it. A mother in good health was more likely to receive support than a father in poor health.
The study also found that the oldest respondents valued care from their children the least. The researchers suggest that this group are presumably those most in need of care but as parents age they become more altruistic toward their children, making fewer demands despite increasing dependence.
Merril Silverstein commented:
"Very old adults give priority to their adult children and grandchildren and want to see them thrive, even if it means getting less care then they may actually need."