Restricted (Penn State Only)
Patterson, Sarah Elizabeth
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 23, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Molly Ann Martin, Dissertation Advisor
  • Molly Ann Martin, Committee Chair
  • Paul R. Amato, Committee Member
  • Melissa Hardy, Committee Member
  • Sarah A Damaske, Outside Member
  • Adult Children
  • Time
  • Money
  • Transfers
  • Family Structure
  • Attitudes
  • Behavior
As the U.S. population and family structures continue to shift, the norms and obligations for adult children caring for their elderly parents are being debated in the literature. My dissertation aims to understand attitudes toward helping the elderly and behaviors of giving to parents by adult children in a recent, nationally representative sample. Chapter one uses the General Social Survey and investigates attitudes toward two distinct but related topics. First, do Americans still value filial obligation, meaning do they see adult children as an important source of help for elderly parents? Second, which institution - families, government, or others - do Americans see as responsible for helping the elderly with specific instrumental tasks of daily living, like laundry or errands? I find that filial obligation is similarly highly valued by many in the U.S., but there is more variation toward which institution should be responsible for care. I find that Black respondents are more supportive of government support compared to Whites, and that respondents with some college or greater educational attainment are more supportive of families taking on this responsibility compared to those with a high school degree or less. Chapter two uses the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics to test whether experiencing a parent’s divorce during childhood, from ages 0 to 16, is associated with later giving of time and money to parents. Here, I find that experiencing a parent’s divorce during childhood is not significantly associated with later giving to parents. While Black and White adult children have differing patterns of giving to parents, this cannot be explained by their childhood experiences of family structure. Adult children whose parents got divorced when they were young do give less to fathers compared to mothers, similar to previous research on this topic. Chapter three also uses the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics and tests whether adult children’s family structure is associated with financial and time transfers to parents. Here, I focus on cohabiting adult children and divorced adult children compared to never married adult children. I find that long-term cohabiter adult children, those who have been living with their partner for more than one year, have lower odds of giving any time to parents compared to never married adult children. Similarly, divorced/separated adult children have lower odds of giving any time to parents compared to never married adult children. The adult child’s marital status is never significantly associated with giving patterns of financial assistance to parents.