As our lifespans continually increase, unforeseen problems are arising.
Georgiana Bostean, sociologist at Chapman University, is studying the crises currently being faced in the field of elder care.
Georgiana Bostean is an Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department and Environmental Science and Policy Program at Chapman University. She is a demographer and sociologist by training, with a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Irvine, and postdoctoral training in cancer prevention and control research at UCLA. Broadly, her research is in the area of population health and health disparities, focusing on the social determinants of health. Dr. Bostean’s research has examined selective migration and family relationships as contributors to the Latino epidemiological paradox, and the role of socioeconomic factors in explaining nativity differences in health behaviors and outcomes. Her work has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and UC Office of the President, and published in journals including Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health and Annals of Epidemiology.
We face a caregiving crisis in the United States. The older adult population is expected to double in the next 25 years, yet systems to provide care for aging adults are inadequate, relying largely on informal, unpaid care.
Taking care of aging relatives can provide a sense of meaning, but it can also be stressful and harmful to health. For example, studies find that caregiving may impair the immune system.
The benefits and harms to caregivers depend partly on the social context in which the caregiving takes place.
To help figure out how caregivers are affected in different social contexts, Dr. Leah Ruppanner and I studied 22 European countries. Our results supported the notion that societal pressure for caregiving is worse for caregiver well-being
We found substantial variation in people’s attitudes about whether care for aging parents should be provided by adult children in-home. Support for familial care ranged from 4% in Sweden and the Netherlands, to 59% in Poland, and 74% in Turkey.
In our study, women caregivers had worse well-being in countries with strong social norms that family should provide care for aging parents in-home, and in countries with fewer government programs to support care for the aging. For instance, in countries where 60% of respondents favor familial in-home caregiving, men, regardless of whether they are caregiver, report positive well-being more than half of the time, compared to less than half (value=3) of the time for female caregivers.
In the U.S., how to provide care for aging family members is largely an individual decision, but norms and public policies exert powerful influence on individuals’ ideals and ability to act on and carry out those ideals
Potential starting points to address the challenges of our aging population might include broad policies to support caregivers through increased paid home care and community-care services, but the issue will only compound itself until we recognize elder care as the increasingly problematic situation it is.