Call for Papers -- Research Conference on Older Families

Sponsored by the Health and Retirement Study (HRS)


Program Co-Chairs:

  • John Henretta (University of Florida)
  • Larry Bumpass (University of Wisconsin)
  • Kathleen McGarry (UCLA)
  • Robert A. Pollak (Washington University in St. Louis)

Key Dates:

  • Conference: Early 2004
  • Paper Proposals Due: July 15, 2003
  • HRS Family Data Workshop in Ann Arbor: June 16-20, 2003
  • ISR Summer Institute: HRS Family Data Workshop

In order to encourage greater use of our family data, the Health and Retirement Study will sponsor a research conference on Older Families in early 2004. We encourage research papers exploiting the HRS panel data on family, kin, and intergenerational transfers. Users new to the HRS data are especially welcome to submit proposals. HRS is offering an introductory Family Data Workshop at ISR June 16-June 20, 2003 to help users gain familiarity with the HRS family data. Research proposals will be due a month later, July 15, 2003.

Background. The Health and Retirement Study is a biennial survey of the US population, aged 50 and over, that began in 1992. It is unusually rich in family data. It tracks changes in the structure of the vertically extended family and the individual life-cycle dynamics of respondents, their children, and their parents. Parallel data are available on the families of both spouses/partners. Transfers of time, money, and shared housing to and from HRS respondents are well represented. Each transfer is uniquely linked to a specific donor and recipient. This feature of the HRS makes it possible to create both dyadic and family histories of exchanges, including parental bequests to individual children. Data through 2000 are now available for analysis.

Family researchers may be interested in a new section of this Web site entitled Resources for Analysis of Family Data. This page brings together reference materials pertaining to HRS data content related to family issues. It contains direct links to relevant questionnaire areas, codebook content and bibliographic materials, as well as other relevant material.

In addition to family data, HRS collects information on respondentsí health, functioning, cognition, health care use, health insurance, labor force activity, and income and assets. Because of this focus, the HRS provides unique opportunities to examine complex interrelationships among the measured domains.

For example, HRS data on the kinship network and the redistribution of resources across generations of the extended family may be used to address:

  • The role of step children in elder care. With rising divorce rates, step children are more numerous and potentially more important than a generation ago. How are private transfers from young to old, and vice versa, affected by parental divorce? Does this trend differentially affect men and women?

  • The role of the extended family in providing income support: Cross-National Evidence. Recent research in the U.S., U.K., and Mexico suggests that significant fractions of retirees might be suffering severe shortfalls in income and consumption upon retirement. One of the surprises from the HRS is that financial transfers from young to old are a good deal more prevalent than previously thought, albeit still small. How responsive are adult children to unexpected income shortfalls after their parents retire?

  • Caregiving as dynamic decision-making among siblings. Is the process by which adult children initially respond to a parental health problem the same as the process by which they adjust the volume or intensity of help over time? Do individual children increase their efforts over time or are other children added to the helping network? Over time, do adult children augment own efforts with market services as the health of a parent deteriorates? Are the relatively better-off children in a family more likely to make financial contributions than those with fewer resources? Is their contribution fixed over time even as the parentís income or consumption gap widens?

  • Demonstration effects. Cox and Stark have predicted that children who witnessed their mother assisting her own mother will be more likely to subsequently replicate this behavior. Are some families more likely to evidence demonstration? Which child in such families is more likely to replicate intergenerational behaviors? Generalized exchange theory, now coming to the fore in Sociology, however, postulates that a child exposed to a family culture of demonstration, need not repay the initial donor to satisfy the requirements of reciprocity.

  • Competition between timing of retirement and family obligations. Do obligations to provide assistance to grand-children or parents increase the odds of early retirement? Do financial obligations to adult children or parents delay retirement? Is there a differential effect for male and female workers approaching retirement?

  • Family care and nursing home admissions. Does family-produced care for frail elderly delay nursing home admission? Under what circumstances? Do family care options encourage earlier discharge from a nursing home or reduce the risk of subsequent re-admission?

  • Costs of caregiving. Do adult children who provide intensive care to parents pay a price in terms of their own savings or own pension? To what extent are parental bequests an offset against the implicit costs of parent care?

  • Bequest intentions and behaviors. Older parents anticipate bequeathing equal shares of their estate to all children. To what extent do parental intentions foreshadow their actual behaviors? Are share adjustments made for the child who provided the greatest assistance at the end of life? Do parents use bequests to equalize differential investments in children earlier in life?

  • Staging of intergenerational claims. Are episodes of parental assistance sequential or concurrent? Does the staging of transfers to parents and parents-in-law vary by race and ethnicity? At what age is the risk for intra- and inter-generational competition greatest?