Ageing and Society

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Ageing and Society (2009), 29:277-293 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © 2009 Cambridge University Press

Research Article

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


a1 Institute of Social Research, University of Michigan, USA.
a2 Addiction Research Center, University of Michigan, USA.
a3 Division of General Medicine, University of Michigan, USA.
a4 Center for Practice Management and Outcomes Research, Department of Veterans Affairs, University of Michigan, USA.
Article author query
rahrig jenkins k [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
kabeto mu [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
langa km [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]


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.

(Accepted June 20 2008)

Key Words:care-giving; spousal care; older adults; decline; self-rated health


c1 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: