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Did you know that the interrelationship between instrumental help and parents’ self-rated health only appears to exist?

July 2023

Across Europe, increases in life expectancy and declines in birth rates have led to aging populations. The resulting growth in dependent older adults has led to an increasing demand for social support (e.g., informal care or instrumental help, i.e., help with household chores), especially from adult children. Support from adult children, especially when provided intensively, can increase stress due to loss of autonomy and thus have a negative impact on older adults’ health. However, social support can also reduce stress by affecting psychological and physiological mechanisms. So far, previous studies have neglected to use advanced longitudinal methods that consider, among other things, the problem of reverse causality.

In a recent study, ISS researcher Lisa Jessee uses four longitudinal survey waves (2008-2017) of the German Ageing Survey (DEAS) to examine the reciprocal relationship between instrumental help from adult children to their parents and self-rated parental health using Dynamic Panel Models with Fixed Effects. The sample included nearly 3,900 individuals.

The result: the reciprocal relationship between instrumental help from adult children and parents’ self-rated health, so often believed to be certain, becomes meaningless when advanced longitudinal methods are used. Instead, it appears that social factors (such as instrumental help) cannot compensate for health inequalities that have unfolded over the life course. Conversely, instrumental help does not appear to be explicitly provided by children to their parents because the parents' health has deteriorated. In this respect, future action on 'healthy' aging should focus on interventions that promote optimal health early in the life course and also on adult children to provide ongoing support to aging parents.