There might be a worldwide agreement that children are obliged to provide care to their elderly parents. However, the manner in which this value manifests itself is rather diverse in different countries.

Researchers analyzed the circumstances in which the financial, emotional or instrumental help is given to the parents by their children across European countries. The study used data from the generations and gender surveys conducted in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, France and Norway.

Though in the Western European countries of France and Norway the level of filial obligation is lower compared to the Eastern European countries, this does not translate to more or less help for the elderly from their children.

The results are as follows:

Eleven percent of those questioned in Romania offer emotional support compared to 31 percent in Norway.

Instrumental help is given in case of concrete need when parents are not able to carry out their everyday activities independently.

Financial help is the type of support the least given to the elderly. There is no clear distinction between the East and the West: on both sides, less than 5 per cent of support is afforded.

Many daughters offer instrumental and emotional support in all countries, whereas there is no gender difference in the financial support given.

Since higher education level means higher income, there is more likelihood that financial support is provided in those families in which children have higher education.


What does this mean?

All in all, while filial obligations as a norm are stronger in Central and Eastern European countries than in Western European ones, such as France and Norway, the level of support is sometimes higher in Western European countries than in Central and Eastern. This means, as the authors conclude, that the welfare state only provides a support measure additional to the one already provided by the children.

Filial obligations therefore correlate with the support but not in an easy way and not in every country in the same way. While in France and Norway emotional support has a higher prevalence than in the Eastern European countries, there is no evidence that this support is connected to filial obligations. It seems rather to be a matter of give-and-take, which very much depends on the personal relations of family members.

Instrumental help is more likely to be provided by adult children if there is less support from the welfare state and it also correlates with the filial obligations in the Eastern European countries. Financial support is provided to the parents when there is no other solution.

The general conclusion is that the level of help is not higher when the children feel traditionally obliged to help their parents. Instead, help is given if needed, and in the Western states it is additional to the help provided by the welfare state.

One would not be wrong in assuming that the socially oriented labour market regulations and the welfare state measures help children to support their parents rather than impair the support to the parents.

Therefore, the better the welfare state is organized, the more the children are able to support their parents in addition to the support provided by the welfare state.

Source: Mureşan, Cornelia and Hărăguş, Paul-Teodor 2015. Norms of filial obligation and actual support to parents in Central and Eastern Europe. Romanian Journal of Population Studies (2015), IX (2): 49 – 81.

2 thoughts on “Norms of filial obligation do not necessarily serve to support ageing parents

  1. This data is compiled outside of the United States, and it would be interesting to measure or survey families, in reference to adult children offering supports to their aging parents in this country. Without real concrete supports from federal/state benefits, assistance that is government provided, can’t sustain the aged on a large scale. Unless the financial means of the parent is sufficient, social-emotional supports can’t be delivered to seniors via programming or policy.

    These supports are reliant upon the quality networks in place for seniors or their adult children and extended family. So many senior citizens are isolated, and feel equally as isolated and devalued in society. This gives rise to depression, declining health and more rapid loss of daily functioning. Not all families value or revere their elders, and the government or social service providers are unable to influence life quality comprehensively. How can we better preserve and protect our seniors in their ‘golden’ years? Not only in the U.S. but globally.


  2. Also, what about nursing home care and cost, or adult living facilities/senior communities for seniors? Many of the supports that will enhance life quality of seniors, and us all, is the sense of relevance, purpose, feeling needed or necessary and the connectedness one has with family and friends. Outside of basic needs, policy can’t ensure or provide that. It begins with the changing of our general regard for the aged. Therein lies the changes to policy and program…and us all collectively. But how?


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