Aging, Social Inequity and Poverty: An Inevitable Future for the (Caregiving) American Woman?
Bruce, Ellen A., Wagner, Donna L., Aging Today
Women's experiences of aging are notably different from men's. As they grow older, women have several advantages over men: They are likely to live longer, they often develop and maintain stronger social networks and they are more apt to utilize healthcare services to best effect.
In the United States (and in most other countries) there are greater numbers of older women than older men. Up until age 35, males outnumber females. After age 35, the differential in numbers between men and women increases significantly with age. Among the age 85-plus population, women outnumber men two to one (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005).
If you look only at the numbers, old age is a "woman's world." Alternatively, if you look at other indicators related to resources, power and status, you will see that (as singer James Brown once so astutely observed) it is "a man's world."
HARD REALITIES OF KIN-KEEPING
Women are the primary kin-keepers in our society and, from childhood, are socialized to take on this role. One of the biggest changes to occur in the past 30 years is the dramatic increase of women in the paid workforce: The percentage of women in the labor force has increased from 43% to 59%, including an increased percentage of working mothers with young children (Department of Labor, 2008).
Despite the fact that the majority of women in the United States are involved in paid work, they nonetheless continue to be the primary caregivers, not only for children but also for older family members and spouses. Research has shown that the work responsibilities of the average woman have little effect on either the quality of their caregiving activities or the time they spend in caregiving.
Though there is an increase in male caregiving for older adults, women are more likely to take time off of work for caregiving purposes (Wagner, 2003). Other gender differences include men's reticence to talk about their caregiving roles with coworkers. This means that there is a lower likelihood that men, as compared to women, would take advantage of extant benefits that might help them with caregiving activities. The gender specificity of the caregiving social norm is strongly entrenched in our society and influences the behaviors of both men and women in a caregiving situation. …