Purdue University Graduate School
Lillie_Dissertation_Final (1).pdf (1.49 MB)

Parental Caregiving and Sibling Topic Avoidance: An Application of Communication Privacy Management Theory

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posted on 2019-08-14, 18:00 authored by Helen M LillieHelen M Lillie

The current study empirically tested a model of sibling caregiving topic avoidance, including privacy rule criteria as predictors of topic avoidance and both relationship satisfaction and depression as outcomes of topic avoidance. Associations between topic avoidance and its predictors and outcomes were compared for primary and non-primary caregivers. Additionally, the study tested privacy expectations, including information ownership and caregiving talk preference, as moderators of the associations between topic avoidance and both relationship satisfaction and depression. The current study is grounded in communication privacy management theory, conceptualizing topic avoidance as a strategy for maintaining privacy (CPM; Petronio, 2002). Findings validate CPM propositions related to privacy rule development and privacy turbulence. Findings also further understanding of informal caregiving, sibling communication, and topic avoidance.

Over 75% of all eldercare in the United States is provided by unpaid, non-professionals (Family Caregiver Alliance, n.d.). Providing unpaid care has been linked to diminished well-being, including negative physical and mental health effects (Cooper, Balamurali, & Livingston, 2007). However, some scholars argue that caregiving is only detrimental in particular circumstances with some caregivers experiencing more benefits than burdens (Roth, Fredman, & Haley, 2015). The current study proposes that sibling communication is a key factor in determining when caregiving is harmful.

Specifically, the current study examines topic avoidance about parent well-being and sibling’s contributions to parental care, including predictors of topic avoidance and the association of topic avoidance with sibling relationship satisfaction and depression. The current study includes a pilot study of 207 participants to develop CPM measures of caregiving topic avoidance, benefit-risk analysis, and information ownership as well as a measure of caregiving involvement (including personal care, routine tasks, and emotional support). The resulting measures are utilizing in a main study of 415 participants, testing models of middle-aged siblings’ topic avoidance.

Findings contribute to understanding of informal care, sibling communication, and CPM. Privacy rule criteria, including context, motivation, and risk-benefit analysis, were associated with topic avoidance. Surprisingly, gender and family culture were not strongly associated with topic avoidance. Topic avoidance resulted in relationship dissatisfaction and greater depression when topic avoidance did not align with privacy expectations, resulting in privacy turbulence. Differences emerged for primary caregivers compared with non-primary caregivers, including predictors of topic avoidance and direct effects of caregiving involvement on relationship satisfaction and depression. For primary caregivers, involvement in personal care was associated with greater depression, and involvement in emotional support was associated with less depression. Overall, findings further understanding of privacy management, caregiving, and sibling communication and provide interesting avenues for future research.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Communication

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Maria Venetis

Additional Committee Member 2

Felicia Roberts

Additional Committee Member 3

Steven Wilson

Additional Committee Member 4

Cleveland Shields

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