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How Aging Parents Impact Womens’ Careers


It’s not always about “Leaning In.” Sometimes it’s about caring for those you love. Is it true women in the prime of their earning years are more likely than men to take a break and care for their aging parents, and if so, how does that affect the ecosystem of the working world and our economy?

(Photo Credit: Rosie O’Beirne/Flickr)

A 2013 study from Pew Research Center reports that 27 percent of the women surveyed had quit their job to care for loved ones. This was due to a variety of factors, one of which is that a decline in public employment. In other words, some women who lost their jobs — or were just about to — left the workforce to care for their parents or grandchildren full-time. 640,000 government workers (both state and local) lost their jobs, according to Labor Department data, between September 2008 and April 2014. Almost half of those were in education and many were women in their 40s.

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Statistically, there are now about one million fewer women aged 45 to 54 in the labor force since the start of the recession. That’s a drop of 3.5 percent. Putting aside the debate of whether it’s fair for women to be the main caregivers for children or older family members, there’s the matter of money, which contributes to a woman’s financial freedom or to her poverty in old age.

Where do men factor in? Studies show that men are more likely to help care for loved ones in ways that don’t conflict with their career. Running errands in between meetings, for example, is more likely to be done by a man. This type of caregiving has virtually no impact on a man’s employment status. In contrast, a woman assisting with her parent’s “personal needs” such as bathing and meals takes on a more steady role, which takes a larger toll, not just financially, but psychologically. Depression and anxiety are common, researchers say.

It might be that women are more likely to take on the role of full-time caregiver in their 40s due to choices early in their career, for example, taking lower-paying jobs, including part-time or flex-time options, to be with young children. Quite simply, they make less than their male partners do and it’s less of a financial hit to the family as the need for a caregiver comes into play.

The elderly are living longer now than ever, and eldercare often isn’t covered by employers. While eldercare is usually thought of as the responsibility of the family and not the government, it has to be kept in consideration that women leaving the workforce during their prime earning years could eventually take a larger toll on government assistance resources like welfare.

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