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Families Over The Life Course

Canada's population is aging. This results from a combination of lowered fertility and general increases in life expectancy among both men and women. In 1999 12.4 percent of the Canadian population was sixty-five years of age or older (Bélanger et al. 2001). By the year 2001, it was projected that this portion will have risen to 14 percent, and with continued declines in fertility, this fraction will continue rising. These are trends common to other Western societies, especially those throughout Europe.

With the graying of the population, concerns about the costs of treating an aging population have increased. Recently, there has been a trend to move elder care outside institutional settings, and it has increasingly become the responsibility of informal caregivers, most frequently female family members. Health care services that were previously offered in institutional settings are now being performed in community health centers, day clinics, and people's own homes. This has created a difficult situation for elderly people, especially in rural Canada. Alongside limited formal health care supports in these areas, depopulation, aging communities, smaller family sizes, limited community resources, and volunteer burnout have resulted in fewer informal community supports (Blakley 1999).

This, in turn, led to widespread unease that the middle-aged children of elderly parents will be squeezed or sandwiched by the multiple roles and obligations associated with dependent children, elderly parents, and work obligations (McDaniel 2001). Elder care involvement can significantly reduce the amount of time available for other family relationships, as well as for work and leisure; yet research has shown that, so far, this has not occurred among the vast majority of middle-aged Canadians. Few Canadians provide frequent help to their elderly parents (Rosenthal et al. 1996). In fact, until parents reach the age of seventy-five, the flow of support favors the children: they receive more help from parents than they give to them.

The majority of Canadian seniors continue to live on their own well into advanced age, and most of the care they receive comes not from their children, but from other members of the same generation, usually a spouse. Friends and neighbors may, however, provide essential help when seniors live alone (Martel and Legare 2000).

Ethnicity influences the amount of assistance provided to older relatives. Asians, East Indians, and southern Europeans provide higher levels of help than British respondents; for example Oya koh koh (filial obligation in Japanese) has a significant effect on nisei (second generation) and sansei (third generation) children's provision of emotional support to older parents in British Columbia (Kobayashi 2000). However, structural factors (like living arrangement and age) rather than cultural factors (like filial obligation) are stronger predictors of assistance and involvement (Keefe, Rosenthal, and Beland 2000). Even among nisei and sansei children, financial and service support are more affected by such material conditions as socioeconomic status, child's availability, and parent's health (Kobayashi 2000.)

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsCanada - Defining Families, Trends In Marriage, Cohabitation Versus Marriage, Divorce, Variations On The Dominant Pattern