As a part-time caretaker for my mother, who has dementia, I feel the impact of caretaking every day.
More and more women are taking on caretaking roles. Often it starts with caring for younger siblings, sometimes grandparents, and later their own children, their partners, and eventually their parents or other family members.
Women are expected to care for others in our society. Patriarchy dictates that women be the “nurturers.” We are often told this is innate, inborn, and natural to women. However, being a nurturer is socialized and taught. Because of this socially imposed role girls and women feel the disproportionate impact of caregiving in our society. Since it is socially constructed we have the power to change it and I think we need to.
Often this work is physical, but it also emotional. It can be rewarding, of course, but it can also be taxing. Often women do this work out of the kindness of their hearts.
Unfortunately, caregiving has become a burden for women in our society. Many women have to work and often care for children and parents at the same time. Men are also doing care work, but not as much. In fact, according to Caregiver.org, within the population caring for an older adult, “an estimated 66% of caregivers are female” and “female caregivers may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than male caregivers.”. Caregiving is not all about the reward; sadly it also has negative consequences.
Caregiving can be emotionally and physically exhausting and create a lot of stress for the person doing the work. Stress can lead to both physical and mental health issues, including heart problems and depression. Moreover, an article on Caregiver.org states “women who cared for ill parents were twice as likely to suffer from depressive or anxious symptoms as non-caregivers.” This paints the picture of self-sacrificing women who are stretched very thin in order to care for those they love.
Most of the care work that women do is unpaid, yet without this free labor these tasks would be quite expensive to outsource. In addition, look how much our society benefits from this work: A study from Massachusetts found “that adding unpaid care to traditional measures would increase the state’s GDP from $352 billion to $504 billion — and that if unpaid care were counted in GDP, it would amount to nearly 30 percent of goods and services produced in the state.” This work also causes women to lose out on wages, as they often take time off from work to care for others. So women prove invaluable to their families, the economy, and our society, but at what cost?