Family Ties & Aging in Changing and Challenging Times: When Care Comes Home

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:50
Oral Presentation
Anne MARTIN-MATTHEWS, Department of Sociology, The University of British Columbia, Canada
Today’s aging families are historically unprecedented: they are smaller, fewer people are marrying, more are childless, first-time parents are older than ever before. Not only are more people living to old age, more are living longer in old age. This combination of individual longevity and co-longevity of generations represents new terrain for families. This paper examines how older people and their families are impacted by structural forces that shape the everyday dynamics of family care, beyond the impact of proximate contextual experiences. Social forces, reflected in changing family structures, national immigration policies, labour laws and housing affordability, add to challenges for families when care ‘comes home’ in later life. The concept of relational properties is used as a heuristic device to examine how institutional imperatives and social and cultural factors shape experiences of care at home. A decade of Canadian research on home care at the ‘nexus’ of the public and the private spheres emphasizes how care for and to older people is a dynamic negotiated process involving workers, family members and older people themselves. Analyses of ‘nexus’ data identified three relational properties of family care in later life: collectivity (understanding home care beyond the dyad of older client and paid care worker); contingency (the regulatory authority of agencies; materiality and characteristics of home space; variability in skills and characteristics of paid care workers); and cultural diversity (emphasizing ethno-cultural diversity between workers, elderly clients and family members). These relational properties enable examination of how social forces impact family care, along a continuum from highly collaborative where paid and unpaid carers “share the care,” to contested, reflecting cultural differences in race, culture, and social class.