Caregiving, perceptions of maternal favoritism, and tension among siblings

Gerontologist. 2014 Aug;54(4):580-8. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnt065. Epub 2013 Jun 27.


Purpose: Studies of later-life families have revealed that sibling tension often increases in response to parents' need for care. Both theory and research on within-family differences suggest that when parents' health declines, sibling relations may be affected by which children assume care and whether siblings perceive that the parent favors some offspring over others. In the present study, we explore the ways in which these factors shape sibling tension both independently and in combination during caregiving.

Design and methods: In this article, we use data collected from 450 adult children nested within 214 later-life families in which the offspring reported that their mothers needed care within 2 years prior to the interview.

Results: Multilevel analyses demonstrated that providing care and perceiving favoritism regarding future caregiving were associated with sibling tension following mothers' major health events. Further, the effects of caregiving on sibling tension were greater when perceptions of favoritism were also present.

Implications: These findings shed new light on the conditions under which adult children are likely to experience high levels of sibling tension during caregiving. Understanding these processes is important because siblings are typically the individuals to whom caregivers are most likely to turn for support when assuming care of older parents, yet these relationships are often a major source of interpersonal stress.

Keywords: Caregiver stress; Caregiving—informal; Intergenerational relationships; Parent/child relationships.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adult Children / psychology*
  • Aged
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Child
  • Family Relations / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Middle Aged
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parents / psychology
  • Perception*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sibling Relations*
  • Siblings / psychology*