In talking with Ellen Goodman about her work with The Conversation Project, we touched on the fact that in our society, the responsibility and therefore the consequences of caregiving fall disproportionately on the shoulders of women. This has far reaching implications ranging from personal and practical to economic and political…
LifeCycles – What can you say about the intersection of caregiving with gender, and how a disproportionate burden falls on women?
Ellen Goodman – Well, I think that women are still the caregivers in our society. It’s not that they are the only caregivers – there are a lot of men who are caregivers as well. But I think it’s two thirds of the caregivers are women – both professional and familial…
If you were to parse the most powerful reason for economic inequality, it would be that women are caregiving. Those women whose lives follow the absolute same trajectory of a traditional male are not experiencing the kind of economic cost that women who are caregivers are experiencing. That does not suggest that we shouldn’t be caregivers at all! It just is the reality. And the amount of time we spend caregiving children, but then also the amount of time we spend caregiving elders, and spouses… it’s time out of our economic history… even [Supreme Court] Justice Sandra Day O’Connor left the supreme court to take care of her husband. So it’s just a huge, huge issue that we have not come to grips with at all …
LC – It makes you wonder what will be a catalyst for change in that – if there will be sort of a critical mass of awareness among women. Where will the impetus for change come from?
EG – I don’t think anything will change until women regard this as a voting issue. Until they really understand that it isn’t each woman’s private individual issue, but is a collective issue, and make it a voting issue.
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Compounding the prevalence of women in the ranks of caregivers is the fact that as of 2014, women working full-time were still only earning 79% of their male counterparts. Taking into account ethnicity, those numbers can drop to as low as 54%. In their current study, The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap (Spring 2016), The American Association of University Women (AAUW) demonstrates this pervasive disparity, which at its current rate, will not resolve for another hundred years.
Given that this is a voting year, it seems like a good time for us to review some of the other facts around this issue, and why it’s important for us to keep these things in mind when choosing who will head up our next administration. The higher responsibility for caregiving by women has an impact on work performance, economic status, physical and emotional health, and overall quality of life.
Here are some recent statistics compiled by the Family Caregiver Alliance*:
- An estimated 66% of caregivers are female.
- Although men also provide assistance, female caregivers may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than male caregivers.
- Caregiving reduces paid work hours for middle aged women by about 41 percent.
- One national study on women and caregiving highlighted the conflicting demands of work and eldercare. The study found that: 33% of working women decreased work hours, 29% passed up a job promotion, training or assignment, 22% took a leave of absence, 20% switched from full-time to part-time employment, 16% quit their jobs and 13% retired early.
- The financial impact of lost social security benefits due to early exit from employment was approximately 15% higher for women than it was for men.**
- Women who are family caregivers are 2.5 times more likely to than non-caregivers to live in poverty and five times more likely to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
- One in five female caregivers age 18 to 39 said that stress was nearly always present in their lives; nearly twice as many as those who were not caregivers and for male caregivers.
- One four-year study found that middle-aged and older women who provided care for an ill or disabled spouse were almost six times as likely to suffer depressive or anxious symptoms as were those who had no caregiving responsibilities.
- The same study found that women who cared for ill parents were twice as likely to suffer from depressive or anxious symptoms as non-caregivers.
- Researchers found that more than one-third of caregivers provide intense and continuing care to others while suffering from poor health themselves.
- 25% of women caregivers have health problems as a result of their caregiving activities.
* Unless otherwise noted, all statistics were derived from the Family Caregiver Alliance Publication, Women and Caregiving: Facts and Figures –
** MetLife (2011) The MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Caregivers. Retrieved (January 2015) from http://www.caregiving.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/mmi-caregiving-costs-working-caregivers.pdf
As you can see, the burden of caregiving in the US clearly falls disproportionately on women. This has an immediate impact on women’s earning capability and financial security, particularly in preparation for retirement. Furthermore, the demands of caregiving lead to increased stress that has negative consequences for women’s physical and emotional health. Understanding this, we at LifeCycles have made it a priority to pay particular attention to the complex set of needs women caregivers need to navigate, both for themselves and on behalf of their families.
One of the main reasons we formed LifeCycles was out of a keen, personal understanding of the implications of caregiving. Founder, Lisa Horowitz took on the responsibility of managing the affairs of several elderly relatives during the last years of their lives, as well as after their deaths. This on-the-ground experience, coupled with her 25+ years as an insurance industry professional gives her the ability to coordinate all of the practical aspects of caring for an aging loved one as their lives transition in significant ways.
Large companies are now offering flexible work schedules and services to support caregiving, and LifeCycles can help you discover and access these resources. We are also qualified to analyze and help you understand all of your available benefits, such as payment for care given by family and friends via Medicare/Medicaid.
In addition to benefits analysis, we take our clients through an in depth review of the necessary documents that must be in place in order to ensure that a person’s wishes regarding this stage of their lives as well as end of life care are honored. We will work, through open conversations, to involve other family members or neighbors in a care plan, investigate the availability of community services and review the work policies that govern leaves of absence to see if we can operate within them while minimizing loss of income and other benefits.
Once we understand the incredible impact of caregiving on women’s lives, we can begin to take steps to protect ourselves and our ability to help our families. Armed with these facts, we are also in a better position to make informed choices about the leaders we entrust to shape policy around caregivers rights and benefits.
As we work to educate people about the needs of our aging community members, LifeCycles is leading the charge to increase awareness about the needs of caregivers in general and women caregivers in particular. Contact us today to see how we can help you better navigate your own family caregiving needs.