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Does caring for your spouse harm one's health? Evidence from a United States nationally-representative sample of older adults

  • KRISTI RAHRIG JENKINS (a1) (a2), MOHAMMED U. KABETO (a3) and KENNETH M. LANGA (a1) (a3) (a4)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 January 2009

The purpose of this article is to investigate the relationship between spousal care-giving and declines in functioning and self-rated health among older care-givers. The authors used data from the 2000 and 2002 waves of the United States Health and Retirement Study, a biennial longitudinal survey of a nationally representative cohort of adults aged 50 or more years. Two outcomes were examined, declines in functioning and declines in self-rated health. Care-givers were classified into three groups: no care-giving, less than 14 hours of care-giving per week, and 14 or more hours care-giving per week. To assess declines in functioning, two summary scores were created of limitations in basic and instrumental Activities of Daily Living. To assess declines in self-rated health, we compared responses from 2000 and 2002. In the fully adjusted models, care-giving hours did not have an independent effect on declines in functioning or self-rated health. The relationship between care-giving hours and declines in functioning and self-rated health is probably attributable to socio-demographic characteristics, mainly age. The findings suggest that spousal care-giving does not of itself harm functional health or perceived health among older adult care-givers. Understanding the differential effects of these socio-economic characteristics with care-giving hours on health will be useful in promoting the health of older adult care-givers and treating their disorders.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Kristi Rahrig Jenkins, Institute for Social Research, 426 Thompson St., Box 1248, Room 2044, Ann Arbor, MI, USA, 48106-1248. E-mail:
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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
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