Motives for Care that Adult Children Provide to Parents: Evidence from Point Blank Survey Questions

TitleMotives for Care that Adult Children Provide to Parents: Evidence from Point Blank Survey Questions
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsCox, D, Soldo, BJ
JournalJournal of Comparative Family Studies
KeywordsAdult children, Healthcare, Methodology, Other, Risk Taking, Social Security

Adult children who care for aging parents. incur costs along psychic, monetary, emotional, and even physical dimensions. What motivates them? Is it altruism, guilt, obligation, or gratitude? Perhaps the anticipation of a bequest? Familial norms, or desire for recognition? Understanding motivation for care is high on the agenda of both economics and sociology. A primary focus of economics is the prospect that public transfers may supplant or stimulate private transfers, depending on the motivation of the private donor. Motives are usually inferred indirectly, on the basis of observed behavior. In contrast, sociologists focus on how familial bonds and networks might be forged and maintained. We depart from each of these approaches to focus on direct questions from a special module in the Health and Retirement Study, which contains questions on motivations for, and concerns about, the provision of familial assistance. Our (deliberately) simple descriptive work reveals abundant new information about motivation for familial transfers and care. These not always provided free of pressure from relatives, for example, and obligations and traditions appear to matter. Findings suggest that the standard economic considerations like utility interdependence or exchange provide an incomplete account of transfer behavior, and that insights from sociological models are essential. We also find that women are far more likely to provide care and take seriously family obligations. Past experience in the provision of financial help and care matters as well, sometimes in intriguingly anomalous ways. Though self-reported motivations must be interpreted carefully, we nonetheless conclude that point-blank questions provide a worthwhile complement to conventional methods for unraveling motivations for private, intergenerational transfers.


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Endnote Keywords

Family responsibilities/Old age risk/Social security financing/Evaluation/Data analysis/Elder care/Informal care

Endnote ID


Citation Key7790