Grant fuels research into family challenges

As populations across the Europe and North America age, governments are faced with a changing set of challenges.

Sociology professor Rachel Margolis is part of an international team receiving an almost $1.4-million grant funding a project titled, Care, Retirement and Wellbeing of Older People across Different Welfare Regimes.

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Adela Talbot // Western NewsSociology professor Rachel Margolis is part of an international team receiving an almost $1.4-million grant funding a project titled, Care, Retirement and Wellbeing of Older People across Different Welfare Regimes.

Margolis is partnering with researchers from five other institutions in four other countries, including The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Spain. Margolis will receive $225,000 over three years to examine two issues: patterns of caregiving and their impact on the wellbeing and social participation of older adults, as well as the increasing population of adults aging without close kin.

When considering caregiving, Margolis will look at how care-giving affects the physical and social well-being of people as they age.

“We want to examine how the landscape of caregiving is changing as demography is changing,” she said. “This includes studying how common it is for adults to be caring for grandchildren, their parents or in-laws, or other family members. We will examine the variety of ways in which social policies support those who provide care for family members.”

Older adults providing grandchild care is fairly common practice in parts of Europe, Margolis said, and there is a fair amount of variation across the continent. The picture is quite different in Canada.

“Intergenerational family dynamics are under-studied in Canada,” she said.

In considering people aging without close kin, Margolis’ research examines how demographic and social changes in families are shifting the numbers of types of kin that are available in older age. Childlessness is increasing, as is the divorce rate among older people in some countries. Together, these trends mean more older people will be aging without children or a spouse, the two types of kin who provide most of the care to older adults.

Margolis will examine a variety of types of kin and how kinship networks are likely to change in the future in different contexts. As people age, the level and strength of relationships people can rely on can affect the type of support they have, and whether they may depend on public support.

For both topics, she will examine differences among Canada and Europe.

Margolis said there is incredible variation in demographic change, social policies and how the two different areas collect information related to the field. While there is considerable survey data available for Europe “there is not as much harmonized data available in Canada, so a big challenge for us will be to compare what we learn about Canada to what we see in Europe,” said Margolis.

The grant is provided through the Joint Programming Initiative More Years, Better Lives – The Potential and Challenges of Demographic Change, funded by European bodies, and by Canadian Institutes of Health Research/ Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The initiative seeks to enhance coordination and collaboration between European and national research programs related to demographic change.