Women's Caregiving Careers and Retirement Financial Insecurity

Article excerpt

Providing the essential care for children and aged relatives has immediate and long-term financial consequences for women, particularly financial insecurity in retirement. Women's caregiving careers are examined in relationship to the impact on retirement. The need for career and retirement education and counseling aimed at women who assume caregiving roles is addressed.


Women spend a considerable portion of their lives providing care that hinders their economic well-being (Young & Newman, 2004). At the turn of the 20th century, women spent, on average, approximately 19 years raising children and 9 years caring for a parent (Foulke, Alford-Cooper, & Butler, 1993). Currently, women are likely to spend 17 years raising children and 18 years caring for a parent (Foulke et al., 1993; Gaugler, Kane, & Kane, 2002; Kaden & McDaniel, 1990). It is estimated that baby boomers (i.e., those born between 1946 and 1964) will spend as many years caring for an elderly parent as raising a child. For many women, the roles of primary caregiver for children and primary caregiver of aged parents overlap in occurrence and duration. A woman's caregiving of children and aged parents potentially spans 35 years of a 78-year life expectancy. With an 11% lifetime incidence of providing care for grandchildren, a woman's caregiving career will expand (Fuller-Thomson, Minkler, & Driver, 1997). A growing number of women will spend most of their adult lives in multiple caregiving roles.

The phenomenon of multiple caregiver roles within a woman's life span is socially coupled with a "reinforcement deficit" as evidenced in the lack of financial recognition for the performance of caregiving tasks. Thus, providing care for children, aged relatives, and/or grandchildren affects a woman's ability to financially plan or enact retirement. Women, especially those in later life and women of color, are more likely to have informal caregiving responsibilities thrust upon them. A variety of factors contribute to the increasing caregiving burden and the subsequent poverty of older women, including the lack of public-supported, affordable child care and elder care; inadequate family leave policies; and the gendered assumption that female relatives can and will voluntarily undertake caregiving responsibilities (Hooyman, Browne, Ray, & Richardson, 2002). Income from Social Security benefits and corporate pensions are rarely available for women whose caregiving roles result in erratic work histories at low-paying positions (Ekerdt & Hackney, 2002).

It has been proposed that the poverty and near poverty of women in middle and later adulthood are logical outcomes of gender role demands that focus on the caregiver role, which is either low paying or provides no income (e.g., homemaker, child caregiver, elder caregiver). Women are disproportionately poor, and the proportion of women in poverty increases with age, primarily because of inadequate retirement income (Barusch, 1994; Glass & Kilpatrick, 1998; Pienta, 1999).

Generally, women do not have retirement resources equivalent to those of men, and they tend to financially prepare less for retirement than do their male counterparts (Choi, 2002; Glass & Kilpatrick, 1998; Richardson, 1999). The purpose of this article is to describe women's caregiving careers and their negative impact on retirement financial security. Retirement issues for women (e.g., ability to retire, retirement income) as a result of providing care to aged relatives and grandchildren are presented within a cultural context. Caregiving implications on retirement planning and education designed specifically for women assuming caregiver roles are discussed, as well as the policies aimed at decreasing the financial risk for women who provide care.


Women are expected to, and often perform, multiple roles (Doress-Worters, 1994). …