Academic journal article Human Ecology Forum

Caregiving - the "Hidden" Work for Women

Academic journal article Human Ecology Forum

Caregiving - the "Hidden" Work for Women

Article excerpt

Women are more likely than ever - and at younger ages - to find themselves caring for an ill or elderly relative, according to recent studies.

By the time women are in their sixties, more than two-thirds of them have been caregivers, up from 45 percent among women now in their eighties.

"Rates for younger women are likely to be even higher," says Phyllis Moen, the Ferris Family Professor of Life Course Studies and director of the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center at Cornell.

"Caregiving is 'hidden' work - done by family members, usually women, and seldom recognized by society at large. Most people don't plan or aspire to become caregivers. Rather, a family crisis puts them in that role, which can be very demanding. We need to learn more about how individuals can derive more pleasure and satisfaction from caregiving."

Caregiving is an activity that takes place in the context of other roles and responsibilities, Moen says. Women do not quit their jobs to become caregivers, the research suggests, and how well they fare during this usually stressful caregiving period depends on a variety of factors.

Moen notes that stress seems largely dependent on what a woman brings to caregiving. If a woman is already heavily committed to community, family, and work obligations, caregiving is likely to strain her energy and resources. Women with fewer commitments, on the other hand, seem to derive more satisfaction from caregiving.

"Studying caregiving is important because so many women - and men - find themselves at some time in this role," says Moen, who also is codirector of the Cornell Applied Gerontology Research Institute in the College of Human Ecology. "Yet governments, policy makers, and employers do not acknowledge caregiving or its implications. While many sectors in our society are finally coming to terms with issues related to the stress of child care, few recognize the similar issues related to caregiving.

"The issue for the next century is how to support this informal source of family care so that caregivers do not experience extreme stress and overload."

With Julie Robison, a graduate student, and Donna Dempster-McClain, assistant director of the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center, Moen looked at a wide range of factors in a sample of 293 randomly selected women born between 1905 and 1934 who were interviewed in 1956 and again in 1986. …

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