Skip to main content Accessibility help

Characteristics and contributions of non-kin carers of older people: a closer look at friends and neighbours



Research on informal care-giving has largely neglected the contributions of non-kin carers. This paper investigated the characteristics and contributions of non-kin who care for older adults with a long-term health problem, and investigated friends and neighbours as distinct categories of care providers. Using data from 324 non-kin carers in the 1996 General Social Survey of Canada, this study compared individual and relationship characteristics, care tasks and amount of care provided for the two groups. Interpersonal and socio-demographic characteristics were investigated as mediators of potential differences between friends and neighbours in patterns of care. Results demonstrate that friend and neighbour carers differed on age, marital status, geographical proximity and relationship closeness. Friends were more likely than neighbours to assist with personal care, bills and banking, and transportation. Neighbours were more likely to assist with home maintenance. Friends provided assistance with a greater number of tasks and provided more hours of care per week, suggesting a more prominent role in the care of non-kin than neighbours. Age, income, a minor child in the household, proximity and relationship closeness significantly predicted amount of care provided, and relationship closeness largely explained differences between friends and neighbours. Future research on informal care-giving can build on the findings that distinguish friend and neighbour carers to further discriminate the dynamics of non-kin care.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Tracey A. LaPierre, Department of Sociology, University of Kansas, Room 716, 1415 Jayhawk Blvd., Lawrence, KS 66045-7556, USA. E-mail:


Hide All
Acock, A. C. 2005. Working with missing values. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 4, 1012–28.
Allan, G. 1986. Friendship and care for elderly people. Ageing & Society, 6, 1, 112.
Allan, G. 1988. Kinship, responsibility and care for elderly people. Ageing & Society, 8, 3, 249–68.
Allan, G. 1998. Friendship, sociology and social structure. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15, 5, 685702.
Allan, G. 2008. Flexibility, friendship, and family. Personal Relationships, 15, 1, 116.
Allan, G. 2010. Friendship and aging. In Dannefer, D. and Phillipson, C. (eds), The Sage Handbook of Social Gerontology. Sage, London, 239–47.
Andel, R., Hyer, K. and Slack, A. 2007. Risk factors for nursing home placement in older adults with and without dementia. Journal of Aging and Health, 19, 2, 213–28.
Arling, G. 1976. The elderly widow and her family, neighbours, and friends. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 38, 4, 757–68.
Armstrong, M. J. and Goldsteen, K. S. 1990. Friendship support patterns of older American women. Journal of Aging Studies, 4, 4, 391404.
Barker, J. C. 2002. Neighbors, friends, and other nonkin caregivers of community-living dependent elders. Journal of Gerontology, 57, 3, S158–67.
Barker, J. C. and Mitteness, L. S. 1990. Invisible care-givers in the spotlight: non-kin caregivers of frail older adults. In Gubrium, J. F. and Sankar, A. (eds), The Home Care Experience: Ethnography and Policy. Sage, Newbury Park, California, 101–27.
Boyce, I. 2006. Neighbourliness and privacy on a low income estate. Sociological Research On-Line, 11, 3.
Brown, E. 2007. Care recipients’ psychological well-being: the role of sense of control and caregiver type. Ageing and Mental Health, 11, 4, 405–14.
Bulmer, M. 1986. Neighbours: The Work of Philip Abrams. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Burns, C. M., Abernethy, A. P., Leblanc, T. W. and Currow, D. C. 2011. What is the role of friends when contributing care at the end of life? Findings from an Australian population study. Psycho-Oncology, 20, 2, 203–12.
Cantor, M. H. 1979. Neighbours and friends: an overlooked resource in the informal support system. Research on Aging, 1, 4, 434–63.
Cantor, M. H. and Brennan, M. 2000. Social Care of the Elderly: The Effects of Ethnicity, Class and Culture. Springer Publishing Company, New York.
Chen, X., Ender, P., Mitchell, M. and Wells, C. 2003. Regression with Stata. Available online at
Cranswick, K. and Dosman, D. 2008. Eldercare: what we know today. Canadian Social Trends, 86, Statistics Canada Cat. No. 11-008, 4856.
Crohan, S. E. and Antonucci, T. C. 1989. Friends as a source of social support in old age. In Adams, R. G. and Blieszner, R. (eds), Older Adult Friendship: Structure and Process. Sage, London, 129–46.
Crow, G., Allan, G. and Summers, M. 2002. Neither busybodies nor nobodies: managing proximity and distance in neighbourly relations. Sociology, 36, 1, 127–45.
De Koker, B. 2009. Socio-demographic determinants of informal caregiving: co-resident versus extra-resident care. European Journal of Ageing, 6, 1, 315.
Evans, S. 2009. ‘That lot up there and us down here’: social interaction and a sense of community in a mixed tenure UK retirement village. Ageing & Society, 29, 2, 199216.
Fast, J., Keating, N., Otfinowski, P. and Derksen, L. 2003. Characteristics of family/friend care networks of frail seniors. Canadian Journal on Ageing/La Revue canadienne du viellissement, 23, 1, 519.
Finch, J. and Mason, J. 1990. Filial obligation and kin support for elderly people. Ageing & Society, 10, 2, 151–75.
Finch, J. and Mason, J. 1993. Negotiating Family Responsibilities. Routledge, London.
France, D. 1997. The new compassion. Modern Maturity, 40, May/June, 3240.
Gallagher, S. K. and Gerstel, N. 1993. Kinkeeping and friend keeping among older women: the effect of marriage. The Gerontologist, 33, 5, 675–81.
Gujarati, D. N. 1995. Basic Econometrics. McGraw-Hill, New York.
Hagestad, G. O. and Uhlenberg, P. 2006. Should we be concerned about age segregation? Some theoretical and empirical explorations. Research on Aging, 28, 6, 638–53.
Himes, C. L. and Reidy, E. B. 2000. The role of friends in caregiving. Research on Aging, 22, 4, 315–36.
Ikkink, K. K. and van Tilburg, T. 1998. Do older adults’ network members continue to provide instrumental support in unbalanced relationships? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15, 1, 5975.
Jayakody, R. 1993. Neighborhoods and neighbor relations. In Jackson, J. S., Chatters, L. M. and Taylor, R. J. (eds), Aging in Black America. Sage, Newbury Park, California, 2137.
Jerrome, D. 1990. Frailty and friendship. Journal of Cross Cultural Gerontology, 5, 1, 5164.
Jerrome, D. and Wenger, G. C. 1999. Stability and change in late-life friendships. Ageing & Society, 19, 6, 661–76.
Johnson, C. L. 1988. Relationships among family members and friends in later life. In Milardo, R. M. (ed.), Families and Social Networks. Sage, Newbury Park, California, 168–89.
Keating, N. and Dosman, D. 2009. Social capital and the care networks of frail seniors. Canadian Review of Sociology, 46, 4, 301–18.
Keating, N., Fast, J. E., Frederick, J. A., Cranswick, K. and Perrier, C. 1999. Eldercare in Canada: Context, Content and Consequences. Statistics Canada, Ottawa.
Keating, N., Otfinowski, P., Wenger, C., Fast, J. and Derksen, L. 2003. Understanding the caring capacity of informal networks of frail seniors: a case for care networks. Ageing & Society, 23, 1, 115–27.
Lashewicz, B. and Keating, N. 2009. Tensions among siblings in parent care. European Journal on Ageing, 62, 2, 127–35.
Lee, E., Spitze, G. and Logan, J. 2003. Social support to parents-in-law: the interplay of gender and kin hierarchies. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 2, 396403.
Lima, J., Allen, S., Goldscheider, F. and Intrator, O. 2008. Spousal caregiving in later midlife versus older ages: implications of work and family obligations. Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 63B, 4, S228–38.
Litwak, E. 1985. Helping the Elderly: The Complementary Roles of Informal Networks and Formal Systems. The Guildford Press, New York.
Litwak, E. and Kulis, S. 1987. Technology, proximity and measures of kin support. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 49, 3, 649–61.
Lowenstein, A. and Daatland, S. 2006. Filial norms and family support in a comparative cross-national context: evidence from the OASIS study. Ageing & Society, 26, 2, 203–23.
McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L. and Cook, J. M. 2001. Birds of a feather: homophily in social networks. Annual Review of Sociology, 27, 415–44.
Mestheneos, E. and Triantafillou, J. 2005. Supporting Family Carers of Older People in Europe – The Pan-European Background Report. Lit Verlag, Munster, Germany.
National Advisory Council on Aging 2006. Seniors in Canada: 2006 Report Card. Government of Canada, Ottawa.
National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP 2009. Caregiving in the U.S. Available online at
Nocon, A. and Pearson, M. 2000. The roles of friends and neighbours in providing support for older people. Ageing & Society, 20, 3, 341–67.
Novak, M. 1995. Ageing in Canada: the role of informal supports. Revista Mundial de Sociologia, 1, 3757.
O'Bryant, S. L. 1985. Neighbours’ support of older widows who live alone in their own homes. The Gerontologist, 25, 3, 305–10.
O'Connor, D. L. 2007. Self-identifying as a caregiver: exploring the positioning process. Journal of Aging Studies, 21, 2, 165–74.
Penning, M. J. 1990. Receipt of assistance by elderly people: hierarchical selection and task specificity. The Gerontologist, 30, 2, 220–7.
Penrod, J. D., Kane, R. A., Kane, R. L. and Finch, M. D. 1995. Who cares? The size, scope, and composition of the care-giver support system. The Gerontologist, 35, 4, 489–97.
Perren, K., Arber, S. and Davidson, K. 2004. Neighbouring in later life: the influence of socio-economic resources, gender and household composition on neighbourly relationships. Sociology, 38, 5, 965–84.
Pickard, L. 2008. Informal care for older people provided by their adult children: projections of supply and demand to 2041 in England. Report to the Strategy Unit (Cabinet Office) and the Department of Health. PSSRU Discussion Paper 2515, Personal Social Services Research Unit, LSE Health and Social Care, The London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.
Qureshi, H. 1990. A research note on the hierarchy of obligations among informal carers – a response to Finch and Mason. Ageing & Society, 10, 4, 455–8.
Qureshi, H. and Walker, A. 1989. The Caring Relationship: Elderly People and Their Families. Macmillan, London.
Rook, K. S. and Schuster, T. L. 1996. Compensatory processes in the social networks of older adults. In Pierce, G., Sarason, B. and Sarason, I. G. (eds), Handbook of Social Support and the Family. Plenum, New York, 219–48.
Sabatelli, R. M. and Shehan, C. L. 1993. Exchange and resource theories. In Boss, P. G., Doherty, W. J., Larossa, R., Schumm, W. R. and Steinmetz, S. K. (eds), Sourcebook of Family Theories and Methods. Plenum Press, New York, 385411.
Silverstein, M. and Giarrusso, R. 2010. Aging and family life: a decade in review. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 5, 1039–58.
Spencer, L. and Pahl, R. 2006. Rethinking Friendship: Hidden Solidarities Today. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
Statistics Canada 1998. 1996 General Social Survey, Cycle 11: Social and Community Support. Minister of Industry, Ottawa.
Summerfield, C. and Babb, P. 2003. Social Trends, No. 33. The Stationary Office, London.
Szinovacz, M. E. and Davey, A. 2008. Caregiving Contexts: Cultural, Familial, and Societal Implications. Springer, New York.
Turcotte, M. and Schellenberg, G. 2006. A Portrait of Seniors in Canada. Statistics Canada, Ottawa.
Uhlenberg, P. and de Jong Gierveld, J. 2004. Age-segregation in later life: an examination of personal networks. Ageing & Society, 24, 1, 528.
Voorpostel, M. and Van Der Lippe, T. 2007. Support between siblings and between friends: two worlds apart. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 5, 1271–82.
Walker, K. 1995. ‘Always there for me’: friendship patterns and expectations among middle- and working-class men and women. Sociological Forum, 10, 2, 273–96.
Wellman, B. and Wortley, S. 1990. Different strokes from different folks: community ties and social support. American Journal of Sociology, 96, 3, 558–88.
Wenger, G. C. 1990. The special role of friends and neighbours. Journal of Aging Studies, 4, 2, 149–69.
Wenger, G. C. 1993. The formation of social networks: self-help, mutual aid, and old people in contemporary Britain. Journal of Aging Studies, 7, 1, 2540.
Wenger, G. C. 2001. Across the generations: family care dynamics into the new millennium. In Weisstub, D. N., Thomasma, D. S., Guatheir, S. and Tomossy, G. F. (eds), Ageing: Caring for Our Elders. Kluwer Academic Publishers, London, 118.
Wissmann, M., Toutenburg, H. and Shalabh, P. 2007. Role of categorical variables in multicollinearity in the linear regression model. Technical Report 008, 2007, Department of Statistics, University of Munich, Munich, Germany.
Wolff, J. L. and Kasper, J. D. 2006. Caregivers of frail elders: updating a national profile. The Gerontologist, 46, 3, 344–56.
Young, E., Seale, C. and Bury, M. 1998. ‘It's not like family going is it?’ Negotiating friendship boundaries towards the end of life. Mortality, 3, 1, 2742.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed