Women Bear the Brunt Of Elder Caregiving

Women are often left with no choice but to interrupt their careers due to caregiving responsibilities, a societal role falling disproportionately on them than men. 

 

According to the AARP there are currently 44 million unpaid family caregivers in the United States, the majority of whom are women. The average caregiver is a woman in her late 40s with a living parent or parents age 65 or older, and at least one dependent child. She most likely struggles to fit eldercare, work and life into a 24-hour day. Nearly 70 percent of caregivers experience work-related difficulties as a result of their caregiving responsibilities; they switch to less demanding jobs, reduce their hours, or quit. They often suffer loss of wages and risk losing up to $300,000 in job-related benefits.

Women are 73 percent more likely to permanently leave jobs and five times more likely to work part-time due to caregiving, the study authors wrote in the Journals of Gerontology.

“There’s a huge societal expectation for women when it comes to who will take time off work,” said lead study author Peter Smith of the Institute for Work and Health in Toronto, Ontario.

“When thinking about the impacts of anything on the labor market, we need to understand if circumstances are the same for men and women, and if not, then why not?” Smith told Reuters Health in a phone interview.

For many years, we have understood that women suffered disadvantages in the labor market relative to men.  Many of these disadvantages stem from the fact that responsibilities for child-related care and elder care fall disproportionately on women and impact their careers. Women are much more likely to interrupt their careers, and suffer a wage penalty due to breaks in work experience. The impacts on pension accruals are also clear, resulting in the gender pension gap.

Eldercare is unpredictable; there are no “ages and stages” guides because there is no predictable timeline. That means people don’t know when eldercare responsibilities might interrupt your work. People will need to cash in on any brand equity they have built in their careers because they may find themselves leaving early, coming in late or taking personal days to accommodate a crazy amount of doctor appointments. Their reputations may take a hit.  People must continue to build their network and skills in order to stay relevant and marketable.

One of the policy prescriptions offered to address this imbalance is improved access to childcare and elder care, with affordability a key dimension. Internationally, more radical approaches have been proposed such as compulsory paternity leave. The logic is that unless men are forced to share caring responsibilities, the underlying cause of gender differences in the labor market will persist.

 

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Policies around childcare and eldercare are to be welcomed. However, the greater likelihood of women over the age of 50 leaving the labor market for care-related reasons points to an additional policy challenge.

One consequence of improved health outcomes and improved longevity is that more people in their 50s and 60s have parents who are still alive. Many grandparents provide childcare informally. Finally, many people provide care for their husbands or wives as increased frailty sets in.

To the extent that these various “later life” caring roles fall disproportionately on women, as seems to be the case based on research findings, including research published recently by the Human Rights and Equality Commission, women are suffering a later-life disadvantage in the labor market. For many women, this could be the second occurrence of care-related interruptions.

Just as childcare is a policy prescription to address career interruptions for mothers, the question arises of whether the care of the elderly needs to be seen as a way of facilitating older women to remain in the labor force.

If women are being forced to leave jobs so that they can care for parents or older spouses, then inequality in care responsibilities is impacting on the labor market participation of women, their wages and their pensions.

Providing appropriate care which reflects the needs and wishes of the individual and respects his or her dignity is paramount in our health and social-care policies for older people. However, this possible impact on women’s participation in paid work adds another strand in support of extension of care for older people. We also know that increased home care and nursing home/long-term care can have a substantial impact in freeing up capacity in our hospitals where discharges are delayed due to an absence of suitable care arrangements. The level of unmet need for home care for older adults is among the highest across all countries.

Based on these points, it seems that efforts to expand publicly-supported care for older people could be a win-win-win policy: wins for the older people themselves; for women (and men) who would otherwise have to leave the labor force; and for people trying to access hospital care.

Other policies could include more flexible workplace leave schemes for those caring for older people, or welfare payments that facilitate combining part-time work and elder care.

85 % of My Elder’s clients are women. My Elder is committed to help these people get the best elder care services in order to maintain their capacity to  work, while providing the best health care for their elders. There are several elder care options available, such as long term care planning, elder long distance caregiving, and elder home care.

My Elder provides elder advocacy services to families. Talk to us about long-term planningfinding the right home for your loved ones, preventing crisis and abusepreventing nursing home eviction or nursing home involuntary discharge, and ensuring they receive the best care possible.

 

Photo Credits Anastasia Dulgier and Claudio Herschberger