Why is it that when family members become elderly, and eventually require care, the responsibility for that care usually falls to women?

Think about your own family: is there an expectation, even if unspoken, that a daughter – or daughters – will take on the responsibility of caring for elderly parents?

Of course, it’s not always the case, but more often than not, it is. I suspect in my own family my sister and I will care for our mother when the time comes.

There are 2.7 million unpaid carers in Australia – the equivalent of 12 per cent of the population – and more than two thirds of those carers are female, and more than half are over the age of 55.

“In many families and communities, women are expected to take on caring responsibilities for people in need of care,” says Carers New South Wales.

How do caring roles affect women throughout their lives?

Though caring can be hugely rewarding, providing unpaid care can also be socially isolating, lead to poor health, stretch finances, and have an adverse impact on overall wellbeing. Some of the negative impacts of caring are more strongly felt by female carers, according to Carers NSW.

  • Research has shown that female carers have higher rates of depression, anxiety and distress than male carers.
  • Female carers are more likely to report lower quality of life than male carers.
  • Female carers often put the needs of others before their own, and therefore have less time for themselves.
  • Female carers are more likely than male carers to reduce their work hours, limiting their career progression or forcing them to leave the workforce altogether.
  • Female carers are also more likely to be employed on a part-time basis, and more female carers than male carers are not employed at all (38.6 per cent, compared with and 22 per cent).
  • It comes as not surprise then that 31.1 per cent of female carers say government support is their main source of income.
    Female carers are more likely to have a low superannuation balance when they reach retirement age.

What can be done?

The government should be encouraged to introduce policies that recognise the importance of the work that carers do, and therefore acknowledge the huge service they provide not only to our communities, but to the economy.

According to research by Carers Australia, the replacement value to the government for the work that unpaid carers do would be $60.3 billion.

The government could increase the amount of carers leave workers are entitled to. In Australia, we are entitled to take 10 days’ personal / carer’s leave a year, and up to two days’ paid compassionate leave. It could be better – in the US, employees have the right to 12 weeks’ unpaid leave to look after an ageing parent.

Secondly, government could increase the carer’s allowance – which currently stands at $127.10 per fortnight.

We need to start thinking about what we want unpaid care to look like as we face the realities of an ageing population, and to consider in particular the implications for women.

And think about your own situation – how can your family share the caring responsibilities more evenly between both sons and daughters?

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