Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Women, Work and Care of the Elderly

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Women, Work and Care of the Elderly

Article excerpt

Women, Work and Care of the Elderly. Elizabeth A. Watson & Jane Mears. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate. 1999. 204 pp. ISBN 1-84014-359-9. $64.95 cloth.

The title of this book suggests some of the intriguing questions that have been raised in the caregiving literature in recent years. These questions include how work and care are defined by those who engage in these activities and how-or whether-a line is drawn between working and caring. When does caring become working, and vice versa? Questions concerning the gendered nature of caregiving are also suggested by the title. The continuing preponderance of women as care providers in paid as well as unpaid spheres of social activity has been exhaustively documented but remains "a fact in search of a theory" (Lee, 1992). Women, Work and Care of the Elderly provides some clues to the first set of questions concerning working and caring, but it does not weigh in directly on current scholarly controversies in the vast and growing body of literature on elder care. The introductory chapter makes clear that the term work is used in the traditional sense of paid labor; for example, workers refers to labor-force participants, not unpaid family caregivers, and workers who are also caring refers to those who both work for pay and provide assistance to a family member. (The authors emphasize that informal caregiving is often arduous, however, and subsequently refer to "the work of caring.") The book is intended for a wide range of audiences, including academics, and the reported findings have value for this audience as well as others. Relatively few of the works that have been published on the complexities and intersections of work and care responsibilities are cited, however, and the authors say little about how their research contributes to the extant body of scholarly literature on work and family care.

Watson and Mears's primary aim for this book is to help inform social policy in Australia. It is possible that they wished to make the book as accessible as possible and for this reason refer at times to the conclusions of "other research" without mentioning specific findings or citations for the research. According to the authors, social policy recognition of family caregiving has been "very slow to emerge" in Australia (p. 2), and research on this issue is limited. The authors wish to call attention to the importance of elder care, the unmet service needs of family care providers, and the need to accommodate (paid) workers who have family care responsibilities.

The book is based on interviews with 40 Australian women who ranged from 22 to over 60 years of age. Most of the women were married or partnered, and the majority lived in or near Sydney. All of the women had a major, continuing responsibility for providing care to an elder family member (usually the woman's mother), and they were also employed in paid labor. Slightly over half of the women included in the sample held professional or managerial positions. About a quarter of the informants were employed as skilled workers or secretaries, and the remainder worked as paid care providers in hospitals or for Homecare services. Recognizing that significant care responsibilities on the part of family members often continue when elders live in a longterm care facility, the researchers included women whose elder family member was residing in a nursing home or hostel as well as women whose elder member was living independently in her or his own home or with the care provider.

Based on their findings, the authors conclude that caregiving encompasses a complex set of activities. The nature and extent of these activities vary greatly depending upon a number of factors, particularly the living arrangement of the care provider and the elder family member. Watson and Mears also conclude that the "choice" to provide care to an elder family member is seldom a simple one. Decisions to provide care to an elder family member-and to continue providing care-are seldom framed in terms of loving or even liking the elder member. …

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