Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Social Work

First Advisor

Bern-Klug, Mercedes

First Committee Member

Bianchi, Alison

Second Committee Member

Sanders, Sara

Third Committee Member

Saunders, Jeanne

Fourth Committee Member

Dorfman, Lorraine


The fast growth of the Chinese oldest old population indicates higher demand for long-term care. In China, families assume the primary responsibility of caring for older adults. Since the oldest elders are more likely to be widowed, their adult children usually become their caregivers. Focusing on the Chinese adult children who provide care for their oldest-old parents, this study documented and helped to explain Chinese adult children's caregiving strain. A conceptual framework was developed based on Pearlin's stress process theory, Higgins' framework of self-concept discrepancy, and previous studies on family caregivers of elders. Using an existing dataset from the 2005 Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey of 895 caregivers and their care recipients, the researcher tested whether and how caregiving context (caregiver's structured context and care recipients' needs for care), caregiving performance, and sibling support were related to five types of caregiving strain including sacrifice strain, exhaustion strain, capability strain, expectation strain, and dependency strain.

The results indicate that caregiving context and caregiving performance are statistically related to different types of caregiver strain. Three independent variables in the set of caregiving context, self-evaluation of living standard, education, and cultural identity, were related to two types of caregiver strain in different directions. The caregivers who were the eldest sons, who were females caring for female elders, who had a close relationship with their care recipients, who lived with the care recipients, who provided care for the elders with more needs for care in ADL (Activities of Daily Living), or whose care recipients had health insurance reported higher levels of at least one type of caregiver strain. Care recipients' cognitive status and entitlement to pension were negatively related to at least one type of caregiver strain. Caregivers' rural residence, having a job outside the family, having a child under age 16, and care recipient's needs for care in IADL (Instrumental Activities of Daily Living) were not found to be related to any type of caregiver strain.

Monetary assistance, which was indicated by the proportion of their annual household per capita income that the caregivers provided to care recipients, was found to be positively related to caregivers' capability strain. The amount of time spent in caregiving (time assistance) was positively related to three types of caregiver strain: exhaustion, expectation, and dependency strain. Time assistance was also found to mediate the relationship between care recipients' needs for care in ADL and caregivers' exhaustion strain and the relationship between dependency strain and three caregiving context variables: closeness between caregivers and care recipients, co-residence with care recipients, and care recipients' needs for care in ADL.

The results revealed the importance of caregiving context and caregiving performance in explaining Chinese adult-child caregivers' experience and the necessity of investigating caregiver strain in different dimensions. This study contributes to understanding caregiver strain from a filial perspective. The results imply directions for future research, social work practice and education, and policy legislation in addressing Chinese adult children's strain in caring for their oldest-old parents.


Caregiver, China, Filial piety, Oldest old, Social work, Strain


vi, 132 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 102-114).


Copyright 2013 Jinyu Liu