Daughter Care: The Cost to Women of Long-term Care
My sister and I took care of our mother during the last months of her life. She developed fast-growing brain tumors and, mercifully, was incapacitated and bedridden for only a few months before she passed away. We quickly became exhausted and unable to physically care for her without professional help as she declined. It was a shock to discover how expensive it is to hire home health support and how little the long-term care insurance, for which she had been paying over decades, would reimburse. None of us had the financial means to pay for much support for very long. She passed quickly, but a family can rapidly become financially drained trying to care for family members. Realistically, women pay the biggest price for both elder care and childcare—as unpaid family caregivers.
Roni Caryn Rabin of the New York Times writes that, as our population ages, “the essential role that daughters play in the American healthcare system is well known but has received little attention.” Rabin notes that a crisis is emerging for women and their employers as the population ages and the number of dementia patients increases. Rabin cites a recent report in JAMA Neurology that states that, “by 2030, one in five Americans will be 65 or older, and the number of older Americans living with dementia is expected to increase to 8.5 million, up from 5.5 million now.” Rabin notes that while more men have gotten involved with some care giving for older adults, the burden is not shared equally and disproportionately falls on daughters and female spouses for care of parents and in-laws.
What are the costs of unpaid care giving for women? Rabin reveals the following:
- A report from the Alzheimer’s Association states that employed women who are caregivers are seven times more likely than men to cut down from full-time to part-time employment because of care-giving duties.
- Women are more likely to take a leave of absence from work and lose employment benefits.
- Women are more likely to be penalized at work, or forced to quit, because of care-giving responsibilities.
- Women are more likely to lose opportunities for advancement, retirement funding, and their ability to send kids to college because of elder-care responsibilities.
Liz O’Donnell, writing for the online journal Cogniscenti, offers this advice to daughters who are caregivers:
- Don’t quit. The job market for women over fifty is not promising.
- Hang in and continue to build your skills and network.
- Protect your career and your family member.
In a previous article, I wrote about the negative impact on women’s employment levels due to care-giving responsibilities. We need comprehensive family support policies such as those available in Europe for affordable childcare, paid family leave and elder-care support. Family support policies are good for all of us and for our economy.