Specialization in Caregiving Networks

Friday, July 18, 2014: 8:30 AM
Room: 301
Oral Presentation
Emily AGREE , Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
Tomoko WAKUI , Tokyo Metropolitan Inst Gerontology, Japan

Decades of change in marriage, divorce, and cohabitation have resulted in diverse social support networks for aging individuals.  The extent to which these growing networks of weak ties can provide needed care to older persons with chronic disabilities has been called into question.  Research has shown pronounced differences by relationship, gender, and distance in the type of assistance that family members are most likely to provide.  Families also tend to negotiate responsibilities, especially among siblings and task specialization often follows gender lines.  Understanding the social organization of caregiving networks has been limited by a longstanding focus on “primary” caregivers and consequent lack of data on the division of labor across helpers. 

This study uses new nationally representative data from the U.S. National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS) to examine the extent to which caregivers work alone or share tasks, and the characteristics associated with caregiver specialization in aging families.  The NHATS was designed to help understand the consequences of late-life disability for individuals, as well as comprehensive networks of  their families, social networks, and helpers who assist older persons with self-care, mobility, household, and medical care tasks. 

Multilevel models are used to examine characteristics associated with the propensity of caregivers to work alone or to share tasks with others, controlling for shared family characteristics, and the health needs of the older person.

Results show the majority are sharing with other caregivers (70%) though almost one-third are the only caregiver, and a small number (about 5%) work alone even though there are other caregivers.  Spouses are more likely to be solo caregivers and children more likely to share tasks.  Stepchildren are minimally involved in care to their stepparent and when they provide care they are more likely to act as a “backup,” sharing a single task with other helpers.