Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Will you still feed me when I'm 六十四?

Is having children so that you will have care in your old age a good strategy?

The social contract, particularly in Confucian societies, is that adults are expected not only to care for the elderly, but also to groom children to care for them when they themselves get old. But how well is this expectation played out in fact?

The 'Sandwich Generation': women caring for parents and children. notes:
  • Almost 45 percent of women [aged 43-54 in 1997] could be said to be supporting their parents. [i.e. by giving $200 or 100 hours in that year.]
  • 81.6% of women aged 43-54 had at least one parent alive.
There is a crude probability of 0.55 that elderly parents required care and, if so, then received it from their child.
That may not sound particularly conclusive. There is no mention of male caregivers. And no comparison between cultural groups.

If there's anywhere to look, it should be Japan, with its combination of Confucian mores and fastest aging population.

Second article of note: Altruism and the Care of Elderly Parents: Evidence from Japanese Families (Kohara & Ohtake, 2006)
  • 2.76% of over 65s live in institutions.
  • Of those in informal care, primary carers are wives, daughters, or daughters-in-law. [Perhaps this is pervasive, and the reason male caregivers were ignored in the earlier article.]
  • The paper reinforces earlier studies which show that children do not attend to their parents when they are ill unless the parents are wealthy. The traditional idea of altruism as a motive for caring has been dismissed, even in Japanese families which are usually thought to have strong ties.
  • About 30% of children living separately from their parents offer parental care when required. (The definition of care is more restrictive than in the first paper.) However, this care is not motivated by altruism. Parents are offered support only when they are wealthy enough to enable their children to do so, whether directly or indirectly. The article goes so far as to conclude:
"The results suggest that we should not rely too much on altruism within families. Declining family care should be replaced by market care services."

Et tu, Japan? Then fall, Confucianism.

So it seems your best bet is even odds that your children will care for you in your twilight years, if you can afford it.

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