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A financial toll on women

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Oct 27, 2005 (UPI via COMTEX) -- Part 2 of 3. Caregiving can cost the caregiver some $659,130 in lost salary and retirement over the course of a lifetime, according to the MetLife Juggling Act Study.

The respondents for the study, completed in 1999, were over the age of 45 and mostly married and working. Eighty-four percent said they made at least one of the following adjustments: taking sick leave or vacation time; taking a cut in work hours; taking an unpaid leave of absence; refusing to travel; refusing to take additional training; refusing promotions that would take extra hours; switching from full to part-time employment; and resigning or retiring early.

In addition to the lost salary and reduced amount of time spent working, caregivers lose pension and Social Security benefits as well as having less money to save for retirement.

"When this study came out it was said how female baby boomers won't have enough money in retirement. Many were married and taking care of children and parents, and it was known they would be squeezed, and that's what's happening -- they're squeezed," Cindy Hounsell, executive director of the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) told UPI's Caregiving. "The thing is -- women are not going to stop providing care, and the burden doesn't fall on other people."

If a woman takes on the role of caregiver earlier in life, it can worsen her economic condition later in life, according to a study by sociologists at Rice University in Houston.

Using data from the 1992 and 2000 Health and Retirement Study, Katharine Donato and Chizuko Wakabayashi analyzed the long-term financial effects of caring for elderly parents.

"If women assumed caregiver roles, they were 2.5 times more likely than non-caregivers to live in poverty and five times more likely to receive Supplemental Security Income," the authors wrote in a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in 2004.

Public and private agencies have sought ways to lower costs by shifting the burden of elder care to families; as a result, approximately 80 percent of elder care is now provided by family members, mostly women, according to Donato and Wakabayashi.

"The potential economic and social consequences of informal elder care for these women may be enormous," said Donato, noting about 45 percent of females 18 or older are single and may assume both roles of earners and caregivers.

The time spent taking care of elderly parents competes with women's employment opportunities, creating losses in working hours and earnings; this cumulative effect contributes to elderly women's disproportionately higher risk of living in poverty.

In 2002 one-third of non-married women over the age of 65 lived in poverty or near poverty, but only 8 percent of men the same age lived in poverty.

"The adverse impact of caregiving was especially severe for women who took on this role in their early sixties," Donato said.

Non-married caregiving women were four times more likely to live in poverty -- their Social Security benefits are significantly lower; their savings are less; they live longer and many do not have pensions.

"Generally, married women in stable families do not end up in poverty -- a married woman benefits from her husband's financial earnings, which are more robust. And in a stable family, there are children and a husband who can share in caregiving duties," Robert Rector, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, told Caregiving. "In general, marriage is a protective factor for both women and children -- it provides options that single women don't have."

While the U.S. government only provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period under the Family and Medical Leave Act, other industrialized countries provide a range of financial assistance for family caregivers. Such help includes monthly income, tax credits, tax deductions and pensions.

"Traditional pensions are going. There needs to be change, but it's just not being addressed. It could be, but everything is mired in party politics -- neither party feels they need to address this," said Hounsell.

Next: The caregiving toll

Alex Cukan is an award-winning journalist, but she always has considered caregiving her primary job. UPI welcomes comments and questions about this column. E-mail:


Copyright 2005 by United Press International

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