Patterns of elder care, transitions into filial care, and caregiver psychological functioning
James, Katie Ruth
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The need for elder care is growing. The bulk of this care is provided informally by family members. Several studies examine the relationship between elder caregiving and the psychological functioning of the caregiver, but research in this area yields inconsistent results. Many studies find that caregiving is associated with increased levels of distress, while others find that caregivers are no more distressed than non-caregivers. Complicating this is a handful of studies that show psychological advantages to caregiving. Reasons for these inconsistent findings include cross-sectional designs, small sample sizes, non-representative samples, and samples that lack a non-caregiving referent group. To address these limitations, I examine elder care longitudinally, using several waves of a nationally representative dataset known as the Household, Income, and Labor Dynamics in Australia study. I use group-based trajectory modeling to identify patterns of elder care and patterns of psychological functioning. Results of multinomial logistic regression models analyzing these patterns indicate that men who participated in a pattern of consistently low levels of care or in a pattern of care that I term “moderate increasers” (i.e., they begin the study providing small amounts of care and their time increases over the study period) have higher odds of membership in a pattern of moderate psychological distress (relative to low levels of distress) than men who do not participate in care. Women who were identified as members of a “high increaser” pattern of care had higher odds of membership in a pattern of distress characterized by high levels of distress (relative to a pattern of low distress levels) and lower odds of membership in a pattern of well-being characterized by low levels of well-being (compared to a pattern of high well-being levels) relative to women who do not participate in care. I also use fixed effects regression models to document how transitioning into filial care affects within-person changes to a caregiver’s psychological functioning. I find that people who transition into sharing care of a parent in their own homes have decreased levels of well-being over time. Substantive and theoretical implications of these findings are discussed.