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Whose responsibility? Elder support norms regarding the provision and financing of assistance with daily activities across economically developed countries

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-108
JournalEuropean Journal of Ageing
Early online date10 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


We use 2012 data from the International Social Survey Program to examine “cultural norms” (at the societal level) and “attitudes” (at the individual level) regarding assistance with daily activities for older people across 24 economically developed countries. We focus on beliefs about the appropriate roles of family members and formal providers with regard to both the provision and financing of assistance with daily activities at home. Overall, informal assistance arrangements garner support from 59 percent of adults 18 years and over, while 34 percent approve of “publicly financed formal assistance” (i.e., the financing of formal assistance is supported by public funds) and 7 percent approve of “privately financed formal assistance” (i.e., formal assistance is paid for by family members or the recipients). There is substantial variation in elder support norms both between regions and among countries within all regions except for the Nordic countries. Using multilevel models, we find that aspects of both societal opportunity structures (i.e., the social policy context, labor market composition) and ideological contextual factors are important in explaining cross-national variation in elder support attitudes. Consistent with our hypotheses, we find that public social expenditures on services substantially raised people’s approval of publicly financed formal assistance. The effects of the ideological contextual factors are generally consistent with our hypotheses and suggest the importance of taking into account the wider religious and political context in explaining cross-national variation in attitudes. We conclude with a discussion of the social scientific and social policy implications of our findings.

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