Siblings, who will care for Mom and Dad?

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Siblings are not equally involved in caregiving when their aging parents start needing care. In 75 percent of all cases, only one adult child will become a caregiver. Mothers are primarily cared for by their daughters, whereas sons continue to be less willing to become the sole caregivers for their parents. In families without daughters, brothers frequently divide the caregiving work among them.

These are the findings that WZB researcher Marcel Raab recently published in a study. The authors used data from the United States to find out why siblings are not equally involved in caregiving for their parents.

Distance is a crucial factor. According to the authors’ calculations, the “risk” of becoming caregivers for their parents is twice as high for siblings living close to their parents as it is for those living further away from them. For siblings living in the same household as their parents, that risk is almost quadrupled. Siblings who are working or have children of their own are less frequently engaged in caregiving. Statistically, the risk of becoming caregivers for their parents is nearly twice as high for first-born children as it is for their younger siblings. Moreover, parents’ expectations have an influence on their children’s’ behavior. Children who have been identified as potential caregivers by their parents are three times as likely to actually become caregivers than siblings who were not mentioned. Whether or not siblings have received financial assistance from their parents or expect to receive such assistance is another important factor. Statistically, the risk of becoming caregivers is five times as high for children who are mentioned in their parents’ last will and testament as it is for those who are not.

The study concentrates on caregiving activities that are time-consuming. Adult children who perform this intensive kind of caregiving often reduce their work hours or even temporarily resign from their jobs altogether. Moreover, the geographical distance between parents and children is often reduced during the period of caregiving as parents move in with their adult children, for example.

The researchers analyzed data from six waves (1998-2008) of the U.S. Health and Retirement Study. The results are based on data on 2,452 parent-child dyads from 641 families. The average age for parents to receive care from their children for the first time is 77 years. At that point, the average age of their adult children is 49 years.