European Journal of Ageing

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 287–299 | Cite as

Family reciprocity of older Singaporeans

  • Lois M. VerbruggeEmail author
  • Shannon Ang
Original Investigation


Reciprocity is a powerful motivation in social life. We study what older people give to their family for help received. Data are from the Panel on Health and Aging of Singaporean Elderly, Wave 2 (2011; persons aged 62+; N = 3103). Giving and receiving help are with family members other than spouse in the same household, in the past year. Types of help given and received are money, food/clothes/other material goods, housework/cooking, babysitting grandchildren, emotional support/advice, help for personal care, and help for going out. Multivariate models predict each type of giving help, with independent variables about the older person’s resources, needs, and help received. Reciprocity is demonstrated by positive relationships between receiving and giving help. Results show two kinds of reciprocity: “nontangibles for tangibles” and “same for same.” First, older people give their time and effort in return for money and material goods. This aligns with contemporary Singapore circumstances, in that older people tend to have ample time but limited financial resources, while family members (often midlife children) have the reverse. Second, same-for-same exchanges, such as housework both given and received, are shared tasks in families or normative behaviors in Singapore society. The results replicate and extend prior ones for Singapore. We discuss prospects for change in frequency and shape of family reciprocity as the state continues to modernize.


Social exchange Older adults Reciprocity Family relations 



The authors thank Angelique Chan, Director, Centre for Ageing Research and Education, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School for launching and overseeing the Panel on Health and Aging of Singaporean Elderly (PHASE) longitudinal study of older Singaporeans. The PHASE Wave 2 survey (2011) was supported by the Singapore Ministry of Health’s National Medical Research Council under its Singapore Translational Research Investigator Award, as part of the project “Establishing a Practical and Theoretical Foundation for Comprehensive and Integrated Community, Policy and Academic Efforts to Improve Dementia Care in Singapore” (P.I.: D. Matchar, NMRC-STAR-0005-2009). The authors gratefully acknowledge use of the services and facilities of the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan, funded by NICHD Center Grant P2CHD041028.


This analysis was conducted with no grant or contract funding.

Compliance with ethical standards

The PHASE Wave 2 survey was reviewed and approved by the National University of Singapore Institutional Review Board (NUS-IRB).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Population Studies CenterUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Sociology, School of Social SciencesNanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore

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