TUESDAY, Aug. 19, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- It's no secret that
daughters seem to bear the brunt of caregiving duties for elderly
parents, but a new study suggests that conscientious daughters
often fill the gaps left by sons.
"Sons provide a lower relative share of total parent care if they have a sister, whereas daughters provide a larger relative share if they have a brother," said study author Angelina Grigoryeva, a graduate student with the department of sociology at Princeton University. "This finding suggests sons may pass on parent-care responsibilities to their sisters."
Although the study was not designed to discern why this may be
so, Grigoryeva suggested that women are often raised to be
caregivers and that when the elderly parent is a woman she might
not feel as comfortable with her son taking care of her.
The study also suggests that the gender divide remains strong
even as men do more housework and spend more time on child care.
"Gender inequality in elder care is more pronounced than in
housework or child care," Grigoryeva said.
As of 2006, almost 11 million older adults in the United States
needed help with at least some tasks that are part of independent
living, such as dressing and bathing, according to the study.
"It is a well-established fact that most elder care in the U.S. is provided at home by unpaid family members, usually adult daughters," Grigoryeva said, but it's not completely clear why brothers don't contribute more.
In the study, Grigoryeva examines statistics from a 2004
national survey of people over the age of 50. She looked at the
results from about 3,000 parents with 1,477 sons and 1,537
daughters (one child each) and 2,461 sibling groups with at least
one son and 2,488 sibling groups with at least one daughter.
Among other things, Grigoryeva found that sons are most likely
to step in to help elderly parents when there's no sister or spouse
to help out. The findings also suggest that daughters provide more
care to mothers, while sons provide more care to fathers.
The study doesn't delve into why these differences exist, but
Grigoryeva said they may have a lot to do with the caregiving role
of women in society and the fact that most elderly parents who need
care are women. "It is possible that elderly women in need of care
resist the caregiving efforts of sons," she said.
Marina Bastawrous, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of
Toronto's Graduate Department of Rehabilitation Science, said her
own research into caregiving has shown that daughters often "took
on the caregiving role because they were the only female sibling
and, in turn, their brother or brothers wouldn't do it. On the
other hand, daughters who had female siblings often talked about a
more even distribution of responsibilities."
What should daughters do if they feel overwhelmed by caring for
their parents? Grigoryeva suggested that daughters focus on tasks
that brothers might be more likely to want to handle, such as home
repairs and helping with bills.
Bastawrous agreed that it can be smart to distribute tasks
according to each sibling's strengths. Caregivers should also "seek
opportunities for support outside the family. Caregiving peers can
help relieve emotional stress just by talking to a caregiver about
their own experience."
The study is to be presented at the American Sociological
Association annual meeting in San Francisco. The findings should be
considered preliminary because they haven't gone through the review
process required of research published in medical journals.
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