Women Caregivers: In a League of Their Own

As another baseball season draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the incredible opportunity every at bat represents: three strikes means at least three chances to make it count before it’s back to the dugout. But imagine you were stepping up to the plate, and the ump said you already had three strikes against you. Whether anyone has told you that or not, there’s a good chance it’s true. Every day millions of women suit up, head to work, care for their families, and dream of a comfortable future, all while carrying three strikes against them.

Strike 1: Right out of college—for those who can afford it or are willing to load up on student debt—the imbalance begins. An average female college graduate makes just 82 cents to every dollar her male peer earns. Women of color have an even steeper hill to climb. African-American and Latina women are making, respectively, 68 and 62 cents to the dollar. These differences persist from the lowest-paid workers to the highest: a survey of 6,000 companies recently found that women hold only 47 cents of equity in their companies to every dollar that men hold, even at the founders’ level. At the risk of mixing metaphors, that playing field is not level!

Strike 2: The next setback comes if a woman decides to start a family. On average, mothers take eight years out of the paid workforce to raise children and manage households. That’s eight years of climbing the ladder—both financially and in experience—that millions of women opt out of. This can be a sound financial decision in the short-term, with money saved by not paying for childcare offsetting the foregone paycheck. But, those years of lost earnings have long-term implications as they get factored into future hiring and salary decisions as well as Social Security benefits.

Strike 3:  And now for the curveball. She’s established a career, figured out parenting, maybe made some headway in saving for retirement, when all of a sudden her (or her partner’s) parent falls ill and needs care. In their 40s and 50s, women often find themselves caring for aging parents or in-laws. Some may see it coming and make a plan, and some don’t.  In either case, caring for an aging or ailing adult takes a significant toll. In 2015, an average caregiver devoted 20 hours a week to caregiving tasks, spent nearly $7,000 out-of-pocket on caregiving expenses, and was more likely to report their own health as fair or poor than a non-caregiver. Women are more likely to take time off from work during this period than men, and some women retire earlier than they planned as a result of the time and energy their loved one requires. A woman who leaves the workforce due to caregiving responsibilities is estimated to miss out on $142,000 in wages. Even when a woman keeps working, she often turns down opportunities for advancement and higher pay to maintain the precarious balance between caregiving and work. And remember, those years of lost earnings and lower salaries are counted against her when she begins collecting Social Security.

The final score:

Women…

 

Women, like men, work for years seeking professional success, personal satisfaction, and financial security. Yet women spend more of their resources—time, health, and money—caring for others, leaving them on shakier ground as they age. Caring for our loved ones is a privilege and an obligation. We shouldn’t penalize women for accepting this responsibility.


Nancy LeaMond is AARP chief advocacy and engagement officer. She leads the organization’s Communities, State and National Group, including government relations, advocacy and public education for AARP’s social change agenda. LeaMond also has responsibility for AARP’s state operation, which includes offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. You can follow her on Twitter @NancyLeaMond.