The University Record, September 10, 1997

White male advantage continues beyond retirement

Researchers found that older white men were more likely to receive help fixing meals, shopping and taking medication than older Black males or white females. Photo by Rebecca A. Doyle

By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services

Older white men are about four times as likely as older Black men to receive help with cooking, shopping and other routine activities, according to a U-M study suggesting that the advantages enjoyed by white males continue beyond retirement.

The study, by researchers Theresa M. Norgard and Willard L. Rodgers, is based on a sample of 2,847 people drawn from the national study of Asset and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old (AHEAD), funded by the National Institute on Aging.

The findings appear in a recent special issue of The Journal of Gerontology highlighting initial results from the longitudinal study.

For their analysis, Norgard, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology and social work, and Rodgers, a professor of sociology and a research scientist at the Institute for Social Research, assessed patterns of in-home care among Blacks and whites who were at least 70 years old.

All of those surveyed lived outside of institutions, and only those who reported needing some help with common tasks such as eating, fixing meals, managing medications or shopping were considered in the analysis. About 40 percent lived alone and 37 percent lived with a spouse. The rest lived with children, siblings or others.

Overall, about 60 percent reported getting help from family, friends or neighbors, while about 14 percent reported getting help from formal home-care services.

The researchers analyzed how age, race, income, education, living arrangements, and mental and physical limitations affected the likelihood of receiving either kind of help.

"Other things being equal, Blacks are less likely to receive help from family and friends than whites," Norgard and Rodgers report, "and Black men are four times less likely to get such help than white men."

Among older women, whites are slightly more likely than Blacks to get help from family, friends and neighbors.

Norgard and Rodgers found no difference between Blacks and whites of either gender in the likelihood of receiving formal help, however. Taken together, the findings call into question the widespread belief that minorities do not turn to formal service providers because they get whatever help they need from family, friends and neighbors.

"In many cases," Norgard notes, "poverty or other family and social disruptions may make informal care unavailable to Blacks."