The Motives for Caring for Dependent Parents

SHARE-based study finds that long-term care in Europe is driven by altruism or family norms, depending on the region.

(August 2017) Informal care (i.e. private, non-institutionalized care) plays an important role in our ageing societies. According to a recent study, on average 34.3% of the population in 20 European countries were informal caregivers (Verbakel et al.).  But as caregiving is related to high opportunity costs, what motivates people to provide care? A new study by Justine Klimaviciute, Sergio Perelman, Pierre Pestieau and Jerome Schoenmaeckers digs into this question and examines the motives of adult children who provide care to their elderly parents.

Caregiving motives: Altruism, exchange or family norms?

Three alternative models of motives for long-term care are considered by the researchers: altruism, family norm and exchange. If care is based on altruism, it is provided voluntarily by the caregiver, no matter what costs and benefits it offers. Caregiving based on family norms (forced altruism) is constrained and does not necessarily benefit the caregiver; it may even have negative psychological consequences. It is provided based on norms which make the children feel morally obliged to take care of their parents. If it is based on exchange (i.e. you give and, in return, you receive), each family member involved has their own objectives. The transfers of care or money are provided because they maximize their own well-being: parents give money in order to receive care, children provide care in order to receive money.

SHARE links information on informal care and financial transfers

Based on data from the second wave of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), the researchers tested the three alternative models. Because SHARE links information on informal care and financial transfers between adult children and their parents, it is possible to examine whether children who received money from their parents are those who later take care of their parents. For the study, the researchers built a panel of almost 30,000 children of SHARE respondents from 13 European countries.

Altruism and family norms as drivers for informal care

The results show that altruism is the main driver of providing informal help – at least in most of the European regions. In Eastern European countries and in single-parent households in Southern Europe, family norm seems to be the leading motive for providing long-term care. Furthermore, contrary to previous studies, the researchers reject the model of exchange as caregiving motive as they don’t find evidence for it.

Study by Justina Klimaviciute, Sergio Perelman, Pierre Pestieau and Jerome Schoenmaeckers (2017): Caring for dependent parents: Altruism, exchange or family norm? Journal of Population Economics 30: 835-873. DOI:

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