Over the past five decades, women’s roles have changed dramatically, while men’s roles have barely budged. Why do the differences still exist? I know that I am not the same as my mother. Yet I find myself, now almost 50, comparing her formerly being caregiver to my father and me, now that I am being caregiver to her. Why not my brother?

In spite of demanding equal respect and value, we still regard men’s traditional work of being the “breadwinner” as being more valuable, and important, than women’s traditional caregiving work. (Anne-Marie Slaughter, World Economic Forum, 2015). This slow to change attitude still creates a large lag, both socially and economically, for women.

If the focus shifts more to the value we place on care, we can bleakly see that there are too few women at the top and too many still at the bottom. And, yet the commonality between the top and the bottom is that a female still predominantly is either forced to accept or slides into the role of primary caregiver for both their young families and aging parents.

For a female, a consequence of accepting the role as caregiver is a negative impact on their career. She is overlooked for promotion, either by virtue of not being there or shrinks away from the added responsibility “at this time”. Time away tends to lead to a gap on a resume, which can be difficult to explain as it is not valued paid employment. If it life employment without pay.

I found the following comment heavy with meaning. “Valuing care means valuing it enough to expect men to take on caregiving responsibilities to the same extent that we now expect women to take on breadwinning”.

Most older adults requiring long term care rely on family and friends to provide this support. Women’s caregivers provide this backbone, to the tune of $148 billion to $188 billion annually (Family Caregiver Alliance, National Center on Caregiving, Who Are the Caregivers?). Imagine the consequence of this financial burden on the economy, as family sizes are shrinking, and women are moving into the workforce to maintain financial stability for her family. Statistically women have longer term long care needs of their own. However, once they are done being caregiver to, and outlive their spouse, they have saved less for their own needs.

Ladies, if we become caregivers, we should all be aware of these statistics (Women and Caregiving: Facts and Figures)

  • 33% of working women decreased work hours
  • 29% passed up a promotion
  • 22% took a leave of absence
  • 26% switched from full-time to part-time employment
  • 16% quit their jobs
  • 13% retired early

Women caregivers on average spend 12 years of their working career raising their families and taking care of parents, and when they return to the workforce, tend to receive smaller pensions, earn lower wages, and have benefit-poor jobs.

As serious as the financial repercussion of caregiver can be, there is also the health consequences to the stressful job of taking care of an ill dependent person. Female caregivers tend to have higher levels of depression, anxiety and mental health challenges that non-caregivers.

We need to take a step back and re-assess our roles within the family and begin to have open and honest conversations with our family and friends about the future and our best wishes. Avoiding having these conversations does not serve anyone in their best interest.


Twitter handle: @NeelaWhiteRWAM

Neela White is an portfolio manager with 3Macs, a division of Raymond James Ltd. She holds a degree in gerontology from McMaster University and is a Certified Professional Consultant on Aging (CPCA) and an Elder Planning Counsellor (EPC). The views of the author do not necessarily reflect those of Raymond James. This article is for information only. Raymond James Ltd., member — Canadian Investor Protection Fund.