Sept. 28, 1995

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    Waite: Those who want to help families find time

    s Retirement does not increase most people's willingness to help their family members, concludes Linda Waite, one of the nation's leading scholars of family life, in a study of changes in social and financial support among a wide range of adults. Waite, co-author of the study, is Professor in Sociology and Director of the newly formed Center on Aging at the National Opinion Research Center, which is based at the University.

    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, Waite reports.

    "Apparently those who want to help their parents, siblings or adult children 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 time in this way after retirement," Waite writes in a paper that was presented at the annual conference of the American Sociological Association last month.

    Impact of employment on family support The results of the study 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 at NORC's Population Research Center.

    Waite and Aytac examined data from the National Survey of Families and Households, gathered by Temple University, to determine the impact on support to families of increased employment among women and reduced employment among men who were retired. The survey sampled more than 13,000 adults nationally in 1987 and 1988.

    The researchers looked at ways in which people provide their family members with financial support, emotional support and assistance with such day-to-day activities as transportation and housecleaning.

    The study determined that despite some concerns that changing employment patterns are undermining families, family life remains strong for the majority of 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 said.

    Despite the overall pattern of support for family members, the study did find that some working adults make adjustments in the amounts or kinds of help they provide to their kin.

    According to the researchers, 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 nonmonetary support. Women who work part time or 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.

    The study also found that 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 said.

    Focus on aging population Issues of health, retirement and long-term care are at the core of the Center on Aging, which is one of nine centers established last year by the National Institute on Aging. The centers were established to make more effective use of massive amounts of information on aging gathered from national surveys.

    With data becoming more widely available, the centers are fostering innovative research on health and economic trends in the older population. They also provide information to policy-makers, who are using on-line services established by the centers to obtain publications and other up-to-date information about the elderly, a rapidly growing portion of the population.

    Under Waite's leadership, scholars at the Center on Aging are focusing on several areas of interest. Among the center's projects is one on the biodemography of aging, which will represent a new model for studying mortality rates based on a study of the biological factors limiting life span.

    Marta Tienda, the Ralph Lewis Professor and Chairman of Sociology, has initiated a project with center support to study differences among ethnic groups, particularly Hispanics, in old-age experiences.

    Robert Townsend, the Charles E. Merriam Professor in Economics, is using center support to study the elderly in Thailand.

    The center has two conferences planned for this fall. An international group of scholars will gather at a Chicago hotel from Thursday, Oct. 5, through Saturday, Oct. 7, to discuss the development of methods to measure health expectancy. From Sunday, Nov. 19, through Tuesday, Nov. 21, the center will hold the conference "Demography and Health in Latin America and the Caribbean" at the University's Downtown Center.

    "This has been a good beginning for the Center on Aging," Waite said. "We expect to see it grow over the next few years to become an important focal point for research into economic and social aspects of aging. As the population of the United States continues to age, this topic will become increasingly important to scholars, policy-makers and the public in general."

    -- William Harms