How Does Divorce and Remarriage Affect Family Caregiving?

You may have heard about the recent report from the AARP that predicts that the supply of family caregivers is unlikely to keep up with the demand as the baby boomers age. According to the study, the ratio of caregivers to people needing care will decline sharply, creating a shortage of informal support over the next few decades.

University of Missouri researchers took a closer look at the changing face of family caregivers. It turns out that, increasingly, these caregivers won’t necessarily be blood kin. Depending on the nature of the relationships involved, stepparents and stepchildren may feel more of a sense of filial responsibility to each other than biologically related family members.

Lawrence Ganong, Ph.D., of the university’s Department of Human Development and Family says that caregiving roles are becoming blurred as more families are affected by divorce and remarriage than in previous decades. His research team found that “relationship quality trumps genetic ties when determining caregiving obligations.”

Ganong and fellow researcher Marilyn Coleman, Ph.D., investigated the attitudes of study subjects about caregiving involving an aging parents and stepparents. They presented scenarios in which a child’s relationship with his or her biological parent was not close, while the relationship with a stepparent was. According to Ganong, “The majority of participants said biological factors are relevant in caregiving decisions, but they do not automatically require adult children to help older relatives. He said, “Based on what happens before, during and after marital transitions, family members may change what they think their responsibilities are regarding helping and providing care to kin.”

Ganong calls for further research to understand the ways divorce and remarriage influence caregiving, and recommends that middle-aged adults talk with parents and stepparents about expectations for caregiving before needs arise.

Read more about the study, titled “Who Gets Custody of Grandma After the Divorce,” on the website of the National Council on Family Relations.

Copyright © AgeWise, 2013 reporting on report from the University of Missouri