Women and the care gap

We need to start addressing the care gap

It is no secret that women tend to take on the majority of informal care-giving, but the economic cost of the care gap is starting to mount up.

Stuck in a job you hate just because you need flexible hours? Struggling to get back into work after a five-year career break? Getting passed over for promotion because you can’t work overtime?

All these situations will be depressingly familiar to working parents. But increasing numbers of working people find themselves facing the same problems because they care for elderly or disabled relatives. The largest group of carers are women in their 50’s and 60’s, most of whom are still working. And in families, daughters tend to be the ones to pick up caring responsibilities. This ‘care gap’ creates yet another drag on women’s success in the workplace.

care gap

The care gap is affecting jobs

Recent research in the UK found that around two-thirds of carers are in paid work themselves. But this population-level average disguises a huge disparity. One in four working women in their 50s are carers, but only one in eight men of the same age.

Women tend to take on more caring duties overall. They make up around 60% of all carers. They are also more likely to be providing round-the-clock care (over 50 hours a week). This is a level of intensity which is incompatible with full-time work. As a result, carers of all genders are more likely to be in low-level roles. Female carers are also twice as likely as men to reduce their hours at work, and four times as likely to quit work entirely.

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The cost of informal caregiving is huge

In the US alone, the cost of informal caregiving for the elderly is over $500bn annually. This figure is calculated by looking at the wages lost by caretakers. It’s estimated that the economic costs could be roughly halved by replacing all informal family care by minimum-wage care workers. The idea of paying for nursing or social care is just as fraught as paying for childcare. Do you want to outsource the care of your loved one to an overworked non-specialist, earning $12 an hour? Or do you want to pay twice as much for an expert and see all your earnings eaten up? Or do you want to do it yourself and let your career take the hit?

Aside from the practical effects on your career, caring for a loved one can exert a huge psychological toll. Carers are at higher risk of a whole host of health conditions, from depression to stroke. On top of that, female carers are more likely to suffer psychological distress related to their caring role.

While employers are gradually coming around to the idea of flexible working options for parents of young children, it can be hard to find an employer who is similarly understanding of other caring responsibilities. As the population lives longer and governments cut funding for social care, it’s clear that this is a growing problem for women in the workplace.

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Alice Bell Contributor
"Alice writes online about business, popular science, and women's lifestyle. After a few years working her way around the world, she has settled in the north of England and taken a day job as a maths teacher. Her life's ambition is to earn enough money to start repaying her student debt."

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