The University of Chicago News Office
August 21, 1995 Press Contact: William Harms
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Retirement does not increase most people’s willingness to help their family members

Retirement does not increase most people’s willingness to help their family members, University of Chicago researchers have concluded in a study of recent changes in social and financial support among a wide range of adults.

Although both men and women who retire would seem to have more time to help their families, retirement does not change patterns already in place, reports Linda Waite, Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago and co-author of the study.

“Apparently those who want to help their parents, adult children, brothers and sisters find the time to do so, even when they are working. And those who failed to help when they were working do not use their extra spare time in this way after retirement,” Waite says in a paper presented August 21 at the annual conference of the American Sociological Association.

The results of the study on the impact of employment on assistance to family members, are reported in the paper “The Impact of Employment and Employment Characteristics on Men’s and Women‘s Social Support to Family.” Waite’s co-author is Isik Aytac, a researcher with the Population Research Center of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

The two examined data from the National Survey of Families and Households, gathered by Temple University, to determine the impact on support to families brought by increased employment among women and reduced employment among men taking advantage of early retirement offers. The survey sampled more than 13,000 people nationally over age 18 in 1987 and 1988.

The researchers looked at ways in which people provide financial support, assistance with transportation and house cleaning, and provide emotional support, for example by offering advice.

The study determined that despite some concerns that changing employment patterns will undermine families, family life remains strong for many Americans.

“Our findings point to the centrality of family responsibilities for individuals and suggest that both men and women find the time and energy to provide the help needed by others, perhaps cutting back on their leisure, social and other activities to do so,” Waite says.

Despite the overall pattern of support for family members, the study did find that some working adults do make adjustments in providing help to their kin:

  • Employment puts some constraints on women’s–but not men’s–support to family because of women’s traditional role as primary providers of emotional and other non-monetary support. Women who work part-time as well as those who work full-time reduce the amount of help they give family members in providing transportation and other assistance. “The gender difference is not surprising as working women, even if they work full-time, perform a large proportion of household labor and the total number of hours they spend in paid work and family work exceeds that of men,” the authors point out.

  • Men with high family incomes provide less emotional support for adult children than do less affluent men. “We speculated that husbands with high family incomes, which often include income from employed wives, may assume responsibility for a sizable proportion of household tasks, reducing their time for adult children,” Waite says.
Last modified at 03:50 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

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