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Filial Responsibility

Filial Responsibility Laws

Many countries have tried to articulate who is responsible for the welfare of dependent family members via the creation of laws. England's Poor Law of 1601 stated that communities were responsible for meeting the needs of the poor elderly, but only after the resources of adult children were exhausted (Schorr 1980). Although the North American colonies adopted the Poor Laws, the statutes were never really tested. The shift from agrarian-based economies, like those in early North America, to primarily industrial economies led to the possibility that elders would no longer be able to ensure their financial well-being through control of the family farm. Thus, industrialization led to increased independence and individualism, as well as greater vulnerability of dependent elders (Bulcroft, Van Leynseele, and Borgatta 1989).

The interface between private and public sectors for the provision of elder care continues to be defined and shaped by the creation and revision of public policy. For instance, the introduction of the Social Security Act in 1935 in the United States represented a critical federal commitment to the needs of older Americans, decreasing aged persons' dependence on family members. In contrast, however, is the fact that thirty states retain varying types of laws attributing legal responsibilities to the family for the care of elder members. For instance, there is a great deal of variation between the statutes of each state (i.e., definition of need, who is named to support, enforcement procedures, nature of support expected) and the vague and ambiguous language employed, making enforcement difficult, if not impossible (Bulcroft, Van Leynseele, and Borgatta 1989).

Many policies related to the provision of long-term care in the United States offer supplemental assistance to families who are caring for their dependent members, empowering the natural care-givers, who offer their services for free (Bulcroft, Van Leynseele, and Borgatta 1989). Governments often attempt to buttress the family's ability to provide for their elderly by offering such incentives as tax breaks for children who claim their parents as dependents. Another example in the United States is the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 that requires companies with more than fifty employees to grant twelve weeks of unpaid leave per year to any worker requiring time off to care for dependent family members, including parents.

Other countries have also enacted legislative actions and social policies geared toward encouraging filial conduct. China's constitution requires that adult children fulfill their duty to care for aging parents, but the government supplements this aid through public pensions and a state income maintenance program for select elders. Although state programs are increasingly important in enhancing the well-being of elders, expectations from children for support in old age still predominate. This is especially true in rural areas where children, particularly sons, forfeit their right to inherit family property if the obligation to parents is neglected (Pei and Pillai 1999). In 1973, South Korea's Ministry of Health and Social Affairs established a Filial Piety Prize. A major event during Respect for the Elderly Week, the prize is awarded to between 150 and 380 of the most filial responsible adult children in Korea each year and serves as one of many incentives for children to provide support to parents (Sung 1990).

In light of the magnitude of the needs required by a growing number of dependent elders, families and governments will benefit from a collaborative approach to meeting the demands. Research on filial responsibility expectations provides some clues as to how government programs can best interface with families in meeting needs of aging members.

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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaPregnancy & ParenthoodFilial Responsibility - Why Is The Issue Pertinent?, Filial Responsibility Laws, Filial Responsibility Expectations, Filial Responsible Behavior