Life expectancy is usually considered a good thing. However, as longevity increases, the need for elder care continues to grow. Without advance planning the 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. Many of these women are forced to cut back on working or leave the workforce entirely to be a full or part-time caregiver.
A new study, “Women Working Longer: Labor Market Implications of Providing Family Care,” by Sean Fahle, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Economics at the University at Buffalo’s College of Arts and Sciences, and Kathleen McGarry, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, found women caregivers were 8 percent less likely to work, and that after providing care, were 4 percent less likely to be working. The study was presented at the Women Working Longer Conference hosted by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The study 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,” Fahle said.
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.
This Long Term Care involves helping a person with what are 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.
With the aging American population, demand for care will increase, Fahle said. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services say if a person reaches the age of 65 they will have a 70% chance of needing some type of Long Term Health Care service. 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.
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,” Fahle noted. “Scenarios look somewhat gloomy in many ways going forward.”
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 the demands of caregiving while 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.
Many experts suggest Long Term Care insurance not only safeguards retirement income and assets but eases the burden on these women who often, by default, become caregivers.
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 which benefit both the person who requires care and the family members who without an advance plan become default caregivers.