Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

School of Aging Studies

Major Professor

William E. Haley, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Soomi Lee, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brent J. Small, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Victor A. Molinari, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David M. Almeida, Ph.D.


affective reactivity, daily stressors, eudaimonia, hedonia, informal caregiving, stress


Contemporary research on informal caregiving recognizes that, though stressful, providing care for a disabled family member or friend can bring psychological benefits, such as increased meaning or purpose in life, growing closer to the care recipient, and learning new skills. Scales of eudaimonic well-being (EWB – e.g., meaning in life, personal growth, and positive relations with others) developed in positive psychology literature offer an innovative solution to incorporating caregiving benefits into between-groups comparisons of caregiver and non-caregiver well-being, which have typically focused on cross-sectional assessment of hedonic well-being (HWB – i.e., negative/positive affect and life satisfaction). Moreover, using daily using daily diary data to examine stressor exposure, stressor severity, and daily negative affect allows comparison of daily stress and HWB processes in caregivers and non-caregivers.

This dissertation is comprised of three studies that, together, investigate the impact of caregiving on daily, cross-sectional, and longitudinal multidimensional well-being. HWB, EWB, and emotional stability are all necessary components of wholistic wellness that can be fostered via intervention. Data come from the longitudinal, population-based Midlife in the United States Study (MIDUS). Study 1 used data from MIDUS 2 and MIDUS Refresher to compare cross-sectional HWB and EWB in a sample of caregivers (n=722) and non-caregivers (n=2,888) matched on demographic characteristics. Results indicated that compared to non-caregiving, caregiving within the past 12 months is related to worse HWB, but not EWB, cross-sectionally. Exploratory analyses indicated that several of the correlations between measures of HWB and EWB were stronger in caregivers than in non-caregivers.

Study 2 used data from the longitudinal sample of MIDUS to compare longitudinal trajectories of HWB and EWB from MIDUS 1 to MIDUS 3 (20 years) in a sample of caregivers (n=472) and matched non-caregivers (n=472). Results indicated that compared to non-caregivers, those who provided care at MIDUS 2 and 3 (long-term caregivers) had lower positive affect and higher autonomy at baseline, which they maintained over the 20 years. Those who provided care at one wave (MIDUS 2 or 3) experienced less decline in personal growth over time compared to non-caregivers. Exploratory analyses indicated that if short-term care occurred at MIDUS 3, caregivers also experienced greater gains in overall EWB and positive relations with others over time.

Finally, Study 3 used daily diary data from the MIDUS 2 and MIDUS Refresher’s National Study of Daily Experiences to compare daily stressor exposure, severity, and affective reactivity in a sample of caregivers (n=308) and matched non-caregivers (n=924). Results indicated that despite greater exposure to daily stressors across days, caregivers’ average daily stressor severity scores did not differ from non-caregivers’. The groups also did not differ in affective reactivity to daily stressors, measured both as change in negative affect on stressor (versus non-stressor days) and change in daily negative affect when daily stressor exposure was greater than that individual’s average. Exploratory analyses revealed that the most common stressor for caregivers, avoiding an argument, was the stressor that they rated as least severe and were least emotionally reactive to. Caregivers’ second most common stressor, having an argument, was the stressor type that caregivers rated as most severe and were most reactive to.

Overall, this dissertation suggests that caregiving increases exposure to daily stressors and is linked to worse mood on average but does not impact affective reactivity to stressors. Further, while providing care does not consistently alter trajectories of EWB, caregiving may buffer against age-related declines in personal growth or offer additional gains in positive relations with others among some caregiver subgroups. Future work can consider replicating these analyses using new, diverse samples of population-based caregivers and non-caregivers and investigate mechanisms linking these daily, cross-sectional, and longitudinal effects.