Caregiving Growing Burden on Women in Mid-Career
Life expectancy is usually considered a good
thing. However, as longevity increases, the need for elder care continues to
grow. Without advance planning the caregiving usually falls on the lap of a
woman. This places a huge additional burden on women who are also in the
workforce, have a spouse and children all at the same time. Many of these women are forced to cut back on
working or leave the workforce entirely to be a full or part-time caregiver.
A new study, “Women Working Longer: Labor
Market Implications of Providing Family Care,” by Sean Fahle, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Economics at the University at Buffalo’s College of Arts and Sciences, and Kathleen McGarry, PhD, of the University of
California, Los Angeles, found women caregivers were 8 percent less likely to
work, and that after providing care, were 4 percent less likely to be working.
The study was presented at the Women Working Longer Conference hosted by the
National Bureau of Economic Research.
The study found that caregiving is increasing,
meaning more current generations of women are more likely to provide care than
women before them.
“Millions of people are providing care for
their parents or parents-in-law,” Fahle said.
Fahle and McGarry used data from the Health and
Retirement Study from the University of Michigan, which has been tracking
participants for more than 20 years. The data used in the study from 9,498
people showed that about one-third of the women had provided care for an
elderly parent, parent-in-law or spouse.
This Long Term Care involves helping a person
with what are referred to as “ADL’s”- Activities of Daily Living. These
activities such as eating, bathing or dressing. Caregiving for a parent peaks
around age 56, while caregiving for a spouse does not become widespread until
With the aging American population, demand for
care will increase, Fahle said. The U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services say if a person reaches the age of 65 they will have a 70% chance of
needing some type of Long Term Health Care service. Estimates suggest 20
percent of these people will need help for five years or more. And most of this
help will come from wives and daughters unless those people what Long Term Care
insurance or substantial assets.
Health insurance and Medicare (health insurance
for those 65 and older) will only pay for a small amount of skilled care and
only if a person is improving. Most extended care is custodial (help with ADL’s
or supervision due to memory) and health insurance and Medicare will not pay
for those costs. Medicaid, the medical welfare program, will pay for custodial
care but only if you are poor or go through the Medicaid spend-down of assets.
Long Term Care insurance will pay for extended health care but too few people
start shopping for a policy until they are older and less healthy … which is
usually too late.
“People are living longer, Alzheimer’s is
projected to increase, and meanwhile family sizes are shrinking, so the burden
of caregiving is falling on fewer children,” Fahle noted. “Scenarios look
somewhat gloomy in many ways going forward.”
Other studies by insurance companies also show
dramatic economic losses. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners
reported this year that 10 percent of caregivers cut back on hours worked
because of the demands of caregiving while an estimated 6 percent left paid
work entirely. Seventeen percent of caregivers take a leave of absence, and 4
percent reportedly turn down promotions.
Figures from a survey by Genworth Financial
(which sells Long Term Care insurance) were even starker: 11 percent of
caregivers lost their jobs due to caregiving, and 52 percent had to reduce work
hours by an average of 7 hours per week, the study cited.
Many experts suggest Long Term Care insurance
not only safeguards retirement income and assets but eases the burden on
these women who often, by default, become caregivers.
The economic value of the care given by family
members is astounding. A 2011 study by Reinhard L. Feinberg, A. Houser, and R.
Choula, for the AARP Public Policy Institute, estimated the value of informal
care in 2009 exceeded $450 billion, more than twice the estimated value of
The growing number of women giving care to their elders should lead to people planning for extended care options which benefit both the person who requires care and the family members who without an advance plan become default caregivers.