Ageing and Society

Research Article

Giving help in return: family reciprocity by older Singaporeans


a1 Institute of Gerontology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.

a2 Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore, Singapore.


Reciprocity is a powerful principle in social ties. The ethos of family reciprocity is especially strong in Asian societies. We study contemporaneous family exchanges, hypothesising that the more current help older Singaporeans receive from family, the more they give in return. Cross-sectional analyses were undertaken of data from two national Singapore surveys conducted in 1995 and 1999. The help received by older people is measured by income and cash support, payment of household expenses by others, having a companion for away-from-home activities, and having a principal carer. The help given by older people is measured by baby-sitting, doing household chores, giving financial help to children, and advising on family matters. Multivariate models are used to examine the factors that affect an older person's ability and willingness to give help. The results show that the more financial support Singapore seniors received from kin, the more baby-sitting and chores they provided. In their swiftly modernising society, Singapore seniors are maintaining family reciprocity by giving time in return for money. We discuss how during the coming decades, reciprocity in Southeast and East Asian societies may shift from instrumental to more affective behaviours.

(Accepted June 01 2007)


c1 Address for correspondence: Lois M. Verbrugge, Institute of Gerontology, 300 North Ingalls, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 48109-2007, United States. E-mail: