Caring for dependent parents: Altruism, exchange or family norm?


The purpose of this paper is to test alternative models of long-term caring motives. We consider three main motives: pure altruism, exchange and family norm. Our database is the second wave of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) which allows linking almost perfectly and with complete information children and their parents’ characteristics. Comparing the empirical results to the theoretical models developed, it appears that, depending on the regions analyzed, long-term caring is driven by moderate altruism or by family norm, while Alessie et al. (De Economist 162(2):193–213, 2014), also using SHARE data, stress the importance of exchange motive in intergenerational transfers.

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  1. 1.

    Bonsang (2009) has worked on the issue of substitutability and complementarity of formal and informal care.

  2. 2.

    The sixth wave ended at the end of 2015.

  3. 3.

    Data are also available for the first wave of SHARE conducted in 2004 but this wave contains fewer observations and fewer countries; hence, the decision to study only the second wave.

  4. 4.

    They built two different samples: the one in which they consider the respondents as parents (the ‘young’ sample) and the one in which they consider the respondents as children (the ‘old’ sample). They use the young sample to analyze financial transfers from parents to their children and the old sample to analyze services provided by each child to parents.

  5. 5.

    Among the 33,132 respondents considered in wave 2, 29,655 declare having at least one child while 3,178 report not having one. There are 299 missing values (due to a refusal to answer). In addition, this complete information is available on up to four children in a household. That represents 93.3% of households for which complete information on all their children is available.

  6. 6.

    As explained previously, only one household member is interviewed about the children and/or stepchildren, financial transfers and help received to reduce the duration of the interview.We also focus our analysis on single respondents in order to not have this duplication issue. See Section 5.4.

  7. 7.

    That can be children, but also partner, other relatives, friends, and so on.

  8. 8.

    412 respondents refused or did not know the answer (1.2 %). 69.1 % declared not having made a transfer.

  9. 9.

    The other transfers recipients are: Family for 21.4 % and other relationships 4.2 %

  10. 10.

    258 respondents refused or did not know the answer (0.8 %). 78.3 % declared not receiving informal help.

  11. 11.

    The other care suppliers are: Family other than children (nephew, niece, uncle, etc.) for 20.3 %, children-in-law 6.9 % (unfortunately, no complete information on their characteristics is available) and other relationships 23.6 %.

  12. 12.

    1107 children with missing information about age, 446 with employment status, 380 with education level, 121 with siblings, 231 with location, 652 with level of parent education, 58 with health status of parent.

  13. 13.

    The sum of missing information is not equal to the difference between 32,235 and 31,416. Indeed, the sum is equal to 2995 when the difference is only 1480. This is because some missing information relates to the same child.

  14. 14.

    ISCED or International Standard Classification of Education was created by UNESCO in order to facilitate comparisons of educations statistics and indicators across countries.

  15. 15.

    ‘Low’ is from ISCED 0 (pre-primary education) to 2 (lower secondary or second state of basic education) through 1 (primary education or first stage of basic education) when ‘High’ ranges from ISCED 4 (post-secondary non-tertiary education) to 6 (second stage of tertiary education) through 5 (first stage of tertiary education).

  16. 16.

    The negative link appears also when we only look at the people who have received help even if it is less strong.

  17. 17.

    The negative link appears also when we only look at the people who have made a transfer even if it is less strong.

  18. 18.

    These initial results are a bit contrasted in the case of a sample of children whose parents have no more/no partner. See Table 11. in AAppendix. That is why we analyze this particular sample in a specific way.

  19. 19.

    This property challenges the assumption of linearity and shows that the ordinary least squares are not the relevant method for estimating such a relationship.

  20. 20.

    Daughters have been shown in numerous studies to be much more likely to provide care to elderly parents than sons, and to provide more care (Mellor 2001).

  21. 21.

    As dependency increases with age (OCDE 2013), it seems normal that help received raises with age.

  22. 22.

    For sibling rivalry, see Buchanan (1983), Bernheim et al. (1985), Behrman (1997) and Chang and Luo (2015).

  23. 23.

    In particular, if we have \(\frac {da}{dy}=\frac {-H_{mm}p + H_{am}}{-{\Delta }_{a}}= \)0, it must be that H a m = H m m P . Using this, we get \(\frac {da}{dw}=\frac {da}{dp}=\frac {-H_{m}}{-{\Delta }_{a}}<0\)

  24. 24.

    It can be verified that if H a m =0, \(\frac {db}{dy}\) reduces to \(\frac {-H_{mm}}{-{\Lambda }_{b}}>0\)


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We are grateful to anonymous referees for their constructive comments and suggestions that significantly improved the paper. We also thank Eric Bonsang, Anne Laferrère and the participants of the fifth SHARE user conference in Luxembourg and CRESUS project Mid-Term Workshop in Antwerp for their helpful comments. We appreciate the methodological suggestions made by Vincent Starck, Bernard Lejeune and Julien Jacqmin. The authors remain responsible for all remaining errors. The financial support from the Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO) research project CRESUS is gratefully acknowledged. This paper uses data from SHARE wave 4 release 1.1.1, as of March 28, 2013 (DOI: 10.6103/SHARE.w4.111) or SHARE waves 1 and 2 release 2.6.0, as of November 29, 2013 (DOIs: 10.6103/SHARE.w1.260 and 10.6103/SHARE.w2.260) or SHARELIFE release 1.0.0, as of November 24, 2010 (DOI: 10.6103/SHARE.w3.100). The SHARE data collection has been primarily funded by the European Commission through the fifth Framework Programme (project QLK6-CT-2001-00360 in the thematic programme Quality of Life), through the 6th Framework Programme (projects SHARE-I3, RII-CT-2006-062193, COMPARE, CIT5-CT-2005-028857, and SHARELIFE, CIT4-CT-2006-028812) and through the 7th Framework Programme (SHARE-PREP, N 211909, SHARE-LEAP, No. 227822 and SHARE M4, No. 261982). Additional funding from the US National Institute on Aging (U01 AG09740-13S2, P01 AG005842, P01 AG08291, P30 AG12815, R21 AG025169, Y1-AG-4553-01, IAG BSR06-11 and OGHA 04-064) and the German Ministry of Education and Research as well as from various national sources is gratefully acknowledged (see for a full list of funding institutions).

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Correspondence to Jerome Schoenmaeckers.

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Responsible editor: Alessandro Cigno



Table 11 Descriptive statistics for single-parent households
Table 12 Tobit models with Mundlak approach (all)
Table 13 Tobit models with Mundlak approach (single-parent households)
Table 14 Tobit models with fixed endowments method and Mundlak approach (all)
Table 15 Tobit models with fixed endowments method and Mundlak approach (single-parent households)
Table 16 Summary of empirical findings (Mundlak approaches robustness tests/all vs. single-parent households)

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Klimaviciute, J., Perelman, S., Pestieau, P. et al. Caring for dependent parents: Altruism, exchange or family norm?. J Popul Econ 30, 835–873 (2017).

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  • Long-term care
  • Intergenerational transfers
  • Informal care
  • Altruism
  • Exchange
  • Family norm

JEL Classification

  • D13
  • J14
  • D64