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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2013 Mar;68(2):268-77. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbs110. Epub 2012 Dec 10.

How mothers allocate support among adult children: evidence from a multiactor survey.

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  • 1Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.



Using a within-family perspective, we examine how mothers allocate support among their adult children, and we test alternative theories about support exchange.


We use a large-scale multiactor survey from the Netherlands in which mothers and children were interviewed independently. We analyze sibling pairs (aged 36 on average) who were connected to 604 mothers (aged 63 on average). Fixed effects regression models and instrumental variable models are used to examine effects of child characteristics on received support.


Mothers give more support to the child who lives without a partner, has children, has health problems, and is lower educated than to the child who does not have these characteristics. Children who more strongly support filial norms also receive more support. Support given to one child has a small positive effect on the support that the mother gives to the other child.


The analyses provide new and supportive evidence for the notion that parents are altruistically motivated. At the same time, older parents are motivated by exchange because they invest more in children who are more likely to reciprocate. Some evidence exists for the norm of equality.

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