Caregiving Growing Burden On Women in Mid-Career

LTC issues become bigger burden on mid-career women who tend to be the default caregiver for an older parent or in-law. An advance LTC plan before retirement is key.

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Caregiving Growing Burden On Women in Mid-Career
2 Min Read December 16th, 2016 Updated:November 25th, 2020

More women are impacted by long-term care compared to men. In 2019, the top insurance companies paid over $11 billion in benefits from Long-Term Care Insurance policies. A majority of those are women. Most caregivers start out being either wives, daughters, or daughters-in-law because men generally need extended care before women.

One in five women will have Alzheimer's at some point in their lifetime compared to one in ten men. But there is more.

According to the AARP, almost 70% of women age 75 or older are widowed, divorced, or never married, compared to only about 30% of men. These facts have consequences.

Older women are more likely than men to live alone. Forty-eight percent of these women age 75 and older live alone compared to 22% of the men. Since they live alone, they do not have a natural in-home family caregiver to provide some care when necessary, at least at the start.

Women's longevity is one of the major reasons women are impacted by long-term care more than men. Women also thrive in a care environment more than men. 

Women are also typically the first caregivers. The AARP says the "typical" caregiver is a 46-year-old woman with a college education, working, and spending more than 20 hours per week providing care to her mother.

The women who are juggling their work schedule with their role as caregivers must make sacrifices with their careers to be caregivers. These sacrifices include turning down promotions, losing benefits, going into work earlier or staying later, or even taking early retirement. 

The bottom line is women are less likely to have a caregiver at home when they need it placing tremendous pressure on savings, income, and lifestyle. 

Life Expectancy Translates to Higher Risk of Long-Term Care

A longer life expectancy for women translates to higher rates of chronic health problems and long-term care. Many experts will tell you long-term care is a women's issue, and advance planning is essential.

Indeed, life expectancy is usually considered a good thing. However, as longevity increases, the need for elder care continues to grow. Without advance planning, the role of caregiving usually falls on the lap of a woman. 

This places a huge additional burden on women who are also in the workforce, have a spouse and children all at the same time. Not only does their role as family caregiver adversely impact their career, but it also affects their spouse and children. 

A new study, "Women Working Longer: Labor Market Implications of Providing Family Care," by Sean Fahle, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Economics at the University at Buffalo's College of Arts and Sciences, and Kathleen McGarry, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, found women caregivers were 8% less likely to work, and that after providing care, were 4% less likely to be working. 

The study was presented at the Women Working Longer Conference hosted by the National Bureau of Economic Research. It found that caregiving is increasing, meaning more current generations of women are more likely to provide care than women before them.

“Millions of people are providing care for their parents or parents-in-law.”

Sean Fahle, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Economics at the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences 

Fahle and McGarry used data from the Health and Retirement Study from the University of Michigan, which has been tracking participants for more than 20 years. The data used in the study from 9,498 people showed that about one-third of the women had provided care for an elderly parent, parent-in-law, or spouse.

What Is Long-Term Care?

This long-term care involves helping a person with what is referred to as "ADL's"- Activities of Daily Living. These activities, such as eating, bathing, or dressing. Caregiving for a parent peaks around age 56, while caregiving for a spouse does not become widespread until the late-60s.

Nearly half of us who reach age 65 will need long-term care services. Estimates suggest 20 percent of these people will need help for five years or more. And most of this help will come from wives and daughters unless those people what Long-Term Care insurance or substantial assets.

Doesn't Health Insurance and Medicare Pay for Long-Term Care?

Health insurance and Medicare (health insurance for those 65 and older) will only pay for a small amount of skilled care, and only if a person is improving. Most extended care is custodial (help with ADL's or supervision due to memory), and health insurance and Medicare will not pay for those costs. Medicaid, the medical welfare program, will pay for custodial care, but only if you are poor or go through the Medicaid spend-down of assets. Long-Term Care insurance will pay for extended health care, but too few people start shopping for a policy until they are older and less healthy … which is usually too late.  

“People are living longer, Alzheimer’s is projected to increase, and meanwhile family sizes are shrinking, so the burden of caregiving is falling on fewer children.”

“Scenarios look somewhat gloomy in many ways going forward.”

Sean Fahle 

Other studies by insurance companies also show dramatic economic losses. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners reported this year that 10 percent of caregivers cut back on hours worked because of caregiving demands. In comparison, an estimated 6 percent left paid work entirely. Seventeen percent of caregivers take a leave of absence, and 4 percent reportedly turn down promotions.

Figures from a survey by Genworth Financial (which sells Long-Term Care insurance) were even starker: 11 percent of caregivers lost their jobs due to caregiving, and 52 percent had to reduce work hours by an average of 7 hours per week, the study cited.

Cost of Long-Term Care Adversely Impacts Savings, Income and Lifestyle

Many experts suggest Long-Term Care Insurance safeguards retirement income and assets and eases the burden on these women who often become caregivers by default. The cost of paid care services drain savings and adversely affects income, lifestyle, and legacy. 

The cost does vary depending on your location. The LTC NEWS cost of care calculator will tell you the current and future cost of long-term care services and supports.

The economic value of the care given by family members is astounding. A 2011 study by Reinhard L. Feinberg, A. Houser, and R. Choula, for the AARP Public Policy Institute estimated the value of informal care in 2009 exceeded $450 billion, more than twice the estimated value of formal care.

The growing number of women giving care to their elders should lead to people planning for extended care options that benefit both the person who requires care and the family members without an advance plan become default caregivers.

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About the Author

An LTC News author focusing on long-term care and aging.

LTC News Contributor James Kelly

James Kelly

Contributor since August 21st, 2017

Editor's Note

Long-Term Care Insurance is easy, affordable and rate stable income and asset protection. These policies are custom designed. Since premiums can vary over 100% between companies for the exact same coverage you should seek the help of a qualified Long-Term Care Insurance specialist.

Items to Discuss with a Long-Term Care Specialist:

  • Partnership – Most states offer special policies that provide dollar-for-dollar asset protection. The Long-Term Care Insurance Partnership Program might be one of the best-kept secrets in retirement planning. Make sure the specialist explains this program and how it might help you.
  • Tax incentives – There are federal tax incentives available for some people. If you own your own business be sure to ask.
  • Health Savings Accounts – If you have an HSA you can use the pre-tax money in your account to pay for the premium.
  • Asset-Based or Hybrid policies – These are life insurance or annuities with a rider for long-term care. Careful, only a handful are actually a long-term care benefit. However, one of these policies can provide you with the flexibility of both a long-term care benefit or a death benefit. They are expensive but can be paid with a single premium.
  • Health and Family History - Make sure the specialist asks you detailed questions about your health, family history, and retirement plans. Underwriting criteria varies with each insurance company. If they are not asking you detailed questions then find another specialist.

Research Starts with Knowing the Costs and the Impact on Your Savings

Take a moment and find the current and future costs of long-term care in the area you live in. This will help you decide the amount of coverage is appropriate for you in your situation. For example, if you have a defined pension when you retire the amount of benefits you would need for long-term care would be less than an individual who will fund their future retirement with earnings off investments. In that case, protecting the principal is essential since that will produce your future income.

Find your state and use the LTC NEWS cost of care calculator.

It is always best to start planning before you retire. Once you have your plan in place you will enjoy peace-of-mind and your family will thank you decades from now.

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