More than any other socio-economic group, women are disproportionately affected by long term care. Much of the reason behind this lies in the fact that women live longer than men and thus, are more likely to develop the functional ailments that require long term care services. Today, the average life expectancy of a woman is 79 years. The average woman can expect to live as much as seven years longer than her male counterpart. As she ages there is an increasing need for vital long term care that ranges from help with day-to-day activities to sophisticated therapy such as stroke rehabilitation.
For centuries, women have served as the traditional, primary providers of long term care. Today, it is women who still most frequently bear the responsibility of caring for their parents or loved ones when they need help. Women comprise more than 80 percent of the family caregivers for chronically ill elders and 73 percent of these women are 65 and older. More women are working outside the home than ever before, yet with those professional responsibilities come the personal responsibilities of essentially serving as a parent to their own parents. Approximately 1.5 million full time working women are actively providing care to dependent elderly.
The emotional strain and anguish that often arise when daughters, granddaughters, sisters and nieces are faced with such responsibilities can have devastating effects, not just on the emotional health of the female caregiver, but also on her financial well-being and productivity. A national study conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that 80 percent of working caregivers reported emotional strain, 50 percent reported financial strain, and 40 percent missed work on a regular basis due to the health needs of an elderly loved one.
Boomer Women at Financial Risk
The baby boom generation is the first in history to include a disproportionate number of single women, many of whom face serious financial risks. A recent study by the National Center for Women and Retirement Research (1998) found that baby boomers, and women in particular, are largely unprepared for the financial costs they will face upon retirement.
Only 27 percent of the women surveyed have accumulated more than $100,000 in their 401(k) retirement plans, while 33 percent of women reported having less than $25,000 in their retirement portfolios. On average, married women live 17 years after the death of their husbands and therefore, lack the spousal help at home that can prevent or delay the need for long term care. Along with the trauma of outliving one's spouse is the fear of outliving one's savings to meet future needs. Yet as studies indicate, women of the baby boom generation will be the largest group ever to remain single or get divorced. The women of this generation will be faced with many of the traditional burdens of being the front line caregivers but they will not have a spouse with whom they can share the emotional and financial stress of providing care for a loved one.
- Three out of four nursing facility residents are women. (Health Care Financing Administration.)
- Nearly half of all female nursing facility residents rely on Medicaid for their long term care services. (Health Care Financing Administration.)
- Of the elderly poor, nearly 75 percent are women. (U.S. Department of Labor.)
1. U.S. Census Bureau.
2. Hooyman and Kiyak (1996) Social Gerontology, 4th ed., Boston: Allyn and Bacon
3. Stone, R.I. (1994) "Toward an equitable, universal caregiver policy: The policy of finacial supports for family caregivers." Journal of Aging and Social Policy, 6(1/2), 57-55.
4. American Association of Retired Persons, 1997.
5. Scudder Kemper Investments, Scudder Kemper Baby Boom Generation Poll. 1998.