Women spend as much time as they can caring for their elderly parents, while men do as little as they can, according to a new study by Angelina Grigoryeva at Princeton University that was provided to ThinkProgress.
Grigoryeva found a “pronounced and statistically significant” gap in the time both genders spend on elder care for their parents, including helping them dress, walk, bathe, eat, toilet, get in and out of bed, cook, grocery shop, take medications, and manage money. Daughters, in fact, spend more than twice as much time on it as sons, an average of 12.3 hours a month versus 5.6. Even when taking into account factors such as how much time each sibling has available, their resources, the size and gender composition of their family, and whether or not they’re the eldest, daughters still spend 5.4 hours more than sons on this care.
And there’s a big gap within families themselves. Among a family with daughters and sons, the parents will get 21.7 hours of care from their daughters and less than 6.2 hours from sons. Overall, daughters do 8.6 percentage points more care than they would if it were split equally with their siblings, while sons do 10.6 percentage points less. That gap actually increases with the above factors taken into account. “For men, having a sister is associated with a smaller share of total parent care, while for women having a brother has an opposite effect,” Grigoryeva writes in the study, and the load increases the more brothers a woman has and decreases the more sisters a man has.
Women’s caregiving is also more dependent on the time and resources they have and whether they’re also giving their parents money, while men’s stays low no matter the circumstances. This is likely due to “women provid[ing] as much care as they can,” she writes, while for men “the gender norm of not doing parent care is so strong that the other factors of caregiving essentially do not matter.”
Being the oldest child doesn’t change the picture for either women or men, which “suggests that caregiving responsibilities are assigned by gender and not by birth order,” she notes.
She concludes that “these results suggest that…gender inequality might be more acute in parent care than in other types of domestic labor.” Men have dramatically increased their efforts around the house since the 1960s, more than doubling the hours spent on housework and nearly tripling the hours spent with children, even if women are still doing more than them. But elder care seems to be a place where men haven’t changed their approach.
And while successive generations appear to be more and more interested in equal partnership, this gap doesn’t show signs of budging. When asked whether younger generations could find a more equal split by the time they have to care for parents, Grigoryeva told ThinkProgress, “I would not say so,” adding, “I do not find any significant cohort changes in the gender differential in elderly parent care. Of course, it might take place in the future…”
Women’s extra burden in caring for parents means that they are going to be less likely to work, according to other research, while acting as a caregiver has no impact on whether men stay in the labor force. And even though today’s fathers have stepped up more when it comes to caring for children, women are still more likely to interrupt their careers or make changes when they have kids, letting their husbands off the hook.
On top of the loss in career status and earnings that women usually suffer when they make such tradeoffs, it also leaves them more financially insecure when they get older themselves. That’s because taking a break from earning wages at work to care for a family member, or even reducing hours at work, will reduce payments into Social Security, which in turns reduces benefits in retirement. To address this problem, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) introduced a bill that would give caregivers credits in Social Security during the time they spend out of the labor force to look after a family member.