The Effects of Transitions in Filial Caregiving on Mental and Physical Health: A Prospective U.S. National Study

Marks, Nadine F., James David Lambert, and Hey Jung Joon
Working paper no. 2001-16


Purpose: This study examined the effects of transitioning into the role of filial caregiver, continuation in filial caregiver role over a period of at least five years, and exiting the role of filial caregiving due to parental death on mental and physical health. Further, it evaluated the moderation of caregiving effects by gender, relationship quality, filial obligation, race-ethnicity, education, income, employment status, marital status, and parental status.

Design and Methods: Data from adults aged 25-65 in 1987-88 and followed up longitudinally in 1992-94 (National Survey of Families and Households) was analyzed (N=1,476). Outcomes included depression, hostility, global happiness, self-esteem, personal mastery, psychological wellness, and self-assessed global health. Multivariate regression models were estimated.

Results: Results suggested that the transition to filial caregiving at a relatively high level of involvement was associated with more depression for men. Continuous care was associated with more hostility, a greater decline in happiness, and a greater decline in self-assessed global health among men. Adult children ending parent care due to death reported mental and physical health similar to noncaregiving adult children. Gender differences suggested men may experience more of mental and physical health risk due to caregiving than women. Relationship quality, filial obligation, social status characteristics, and other role commitments influence the effects of entering into filial caregiving, often in different ways for men and women.

Discussion: Filial care in the U.S. population is not consistently associated with compromised mental and physical health. Gender, relationship quality, filial attitudes, and multiple social context factors moderate the effects of entering into filial care and should be examined further in future research.