Women with better financial resources can afford
paid healthcare for an aging parent, which allows those women to
remain in the workforce, the authors found. But women with the
lowest incomes end up taking care of their parents, and the expenses
and lost work time involved reduces their income even further.
"We looked at the relationship among parental caregiving, labor
force participation and financial wellbeing," said lead author
Yeonjung Lee, a researcher and professor at the Faculty of Social
Work at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.
Past research had only looked at women's situation at a single point
in time, Lee told Reuters Health, "so they weren't sure if the women
were already poor before they took care of their parents, or if they
became poor after they took care of their parents."
Lee's team used three waves of information from the U.S. Health and
Retirement Survey, a large population study that focuses on the
transitions Americans go through as they retire.
The study included survey information for 2,093 women aged 51 and
older who had at least one living parent or parent-in-law during
2006, 2008 and 2010.
Caregiving was defined as providing help with the activities of
daily living during the previous year.
At the beginning of the study period, Lee and colleagues found,
there were already differences between people caring for a parent
and those who were not. The 1,837 non-caregivers had a median
household income of $51,200, while the 254 caregivers had a median
household income of $46,410.
Two years later in 2008, the median income for non-caregivers rose
to $52,399 and the median income for caregivers dropped to $43,607.
In 2010, the financial downturn that many Americans experienced also
affected the women in the study. The median income of non-caregivers
dropped to $49,484, but the median income for the caregivers dropped
Overall, the researchers found, women who cared for their parents in
2006 and 2008 had lower incomes in 2008 and 2010. As household
income increased, women were 23 percent less likely to care for
parents in 2008 and 12 percent less likely to care for parents in
"We found that taking care of parents led to negative outcome in
their financial status, but it also went the opposite direction,"
"People who had less household income and less financial resources
were more likely to take care of their parents so there is this
cycle that they cannot get out of — they are poor, then taking care
of parents, then being poor and taking care of their parents — there's this kind of cycle," Lee said.
Lee said further research would be beneficial, including looking at
how loss of work while caring for parents might affect the social
security benefits of the caregivers when they retire.
[to top of second column]
Caregivers inevitably need to take time off from work unless they
have the funds to get somebody else to help out, Judy Strauss told
"So they end up losing work, and also then losing the ability to
accumulate retirement funds, such as social security," said Strauss,
a social worker and researcher with the National Institute for
Psychotherapies and the Touro College School of Social Work in New
Strauss, who was not involved in the new study, said it's never too
early for women to plan for this stage in life.
"I think that siblings have to get together way before a parent
needs care and set up support for the parent," she said.
"Given that adult children are dispersed all over the place, it
gets difficult to take care of a parent," Strauss said. "Getting
together as a team to plan — when the parents are healthy — makes
But Strauss said there are also things women who find themselves in
the caregiver roll can do.
"Women need to give themselves the space to give themselves support — as in counseling, caregiving groups or setting up family
meetings," she said. "The caregivers need support themselves to get
through some of the harder stresses of caregiving."
"And society — in terms of policy — if we don't take care of midlife
women we're not going to be able to take care of our children or our
elderly," Strauss said. "That's my biggest concern — that here in
the United States, we care for the children, we care for the
elderly, but we forget the midlife woman who takes care of both
"There should be programs — just like maternity leave, there should
also be caregiving leave," Strauss said.
The Journals of Gerontology, Series B, online Jan. 31, 2014.
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