Skip to main content Accessibility help

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)


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:


Hide All
Arno, P. S., Levine, C. and Memmott, M. M. 1999. The economic value of informal caregiving. Health Affairs, 18, 2, 182–8.
Baker, D. W., Parker, R. M., Williams, M. V., Clark, W. S. and Nurss, J. 1997. The relationship of patient reading ability to self-reported health and use of health services. American Journal of Public Health, 87, 6, 1027–30.
Baker, D. W., Sudano, J. J., Albert, J. M., Borawski, E. A. and Dor, A. 2001. Lack of health insurance and decline in overall health in late middle age. New England Journal of Medicine, 345, 15, 1106–12.
Beach, S. R., Jackson, S., Schulz, R. and Yee, J. L. 2000. Negative and positive health effects of caring for a disabled spouse: longitudinal findings from the caregiver health effects study. Psychology and Aging, 15, 2, 259–71.
Borg, V. and Kristensen, T. S. 2000. Social class and self-rated health: can the gradient be explained by differences in life style or work environment? Social Science and Medicine, 51, 7, 1019–30.
Brown, S. L., Nesse, R. M., Vinokur, A. D. and Smith, D. 2003. Providing social support may be more beneficial than receiving it: results from a prospective study of mortality. Psychological Science, 14, 4, 320–7.
Burton, L. C., Newsom, J. T., Schulz, R., Hirsch, C. and German, P. 1997. Preventive health behaviors among spousal caregivers. Preventive Medicine, 26, 2, 162–9.
Dunlop, D. D., Semanik, P., Song, J., Manheim, L., Shih, V. and Chang, R. 2005. Risk factors for functional decline in older adults with arthritis. Arthritis and Rheumatism, 52, 4, 1274–82.
Ernst, R. L. and Hay, J. W. 1994. The US economic and social costs of Alzheimer's disease revisited. American Journal of Public Health, 84, 8, 1261–4.
Heisler, M., Langa, K. M., Eby, E. L., Fendrick, A. M., Kabeto, M. U. and Piette, J. D. 2004. The health effects of restricting prescription medication use because of cost. Medical Care, 42, 7, 626–34.
Henz, U. 2004. The effects of informal care on paid-work participation in Great Britain: a lifecourse perspective. Ageing & Society, 24, 4, 851–80.
Langa, K., Chernew, M., Kabeto, M., Herzog, A., Ofstedal, M., Willis, R., Wallace, R. B., Mucha, L. M., Straus, W. L. and Fendrick, A. M. 2001. National estimates of the quantity and cost of informal caregiving for the elderly with dementia. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 16, 11, 770–8.
Langa, K., Vijan, S., Hayward, R., Chernew, M., Blaum, C., Kabeto, M., Weir, D. R., Katz, S. J., Willis, R. J. and Fendrick, A. M. 2002. Informal caregiving for diabetes and diabetic complications among elderly Americans. Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 57B, S177–86.
Marton, K. I., Sox, H. C. and Krupp, J. R. 1981. Involuntary weight loss: diagnostic and prognostic significance. Annals of Internal Medicine, 95, 5, 568–74.
Nagi, S. Z. 1976. An epidemiology of disability among adults in the United States. Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly: Health and Society, 54, 4, 439–67.
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute 1998. Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults: The Evidence Report. Publication 98-4083, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
Ory, M., Lee, J., Tennstedt, S. and Schulz, R. 2000. The extent and impact of dementia care: unique challenges experienced by family caregivers. In Schulz, R. (ed.), Handbook on Dementia Caregiving. Springer Publishing Company, New York, 132.
Schulz, R. and Beach, S. R. 1999. Caregiving as a risk factor for mortality: the Caregiver Health Effects Study. Journal of the American Medical Association, 282, 23, 2215–9.
Schulz, R., Newsom, J., Mittelmark, M., Burton, L., Hirsch, C. and Jackson, S. 1997. Health effects of caregiving. The caregiver health effects study: an ancillary study of the cardiovascular health study. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 19, 2, 110–6.
Singh-Manoux, A., Martikainen, P., Ferrie, J., Zins, M., Marmot, M. and Goldberg, M. 2006. What does self rated health measure? Results from the British Whitehall II and French Gazel cohort studies. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 60, 4, 364–72.
Tennstedt, S. and Chang, B. H. 1998. The relative contribution of ethnicity versus socioeconomic status in explaining differences in disability and receipt of informal care. Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 53B, 1, S6170.


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)


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