North Carolina’s population is aging at lightning speed. By 2030, almost one in five North Carolinians – or 2.2 million residents – will be over the age of 65. Many of these aging North Carolinians may be thanking their lucky stars that they had daughters.
A recent study out of Princeton found that women spend significantly more time than men providing elder care for their parents. Even when factors such as available time, resources, and family composition are taken into account, daughters still spend almost twice as much time caring for their elderly parents than do sons.
And there’s an even greater caregiving gap between adult brothers and sisters, the study shows. Within families with both sons and daughters, parents will end up with about 22 hours of care from their daughters compared to less than 6 hours of care from their sons.
These findings aren’t exactly surprising. Women are vastly overrepresented in both informal and formal care. Nine out of 10 home health care workers in North Carolina are women. And about two out of three of our state’s 1.18 million family caregivers – those providing unpaid care to a family member or close friend — are women.
What is surprising is the lack of policies in our state that recognize the importance of caregiving and its link to women’s economic insecurity. The vast majority of family caregivers also juggle paid work on top of their family responsibilities. Hours spent caregiving mean less time at work. Interrupted careers can lead to major financial instability. In addition, family caregivers often help pay out-of-pocket expenses for their family members, which can be especially onerous for low-income caregivers (one survey found that caregivers earning less than $25,000 spent more than a fifth of their income on caregiving expenses).
The lack of adequate workplace policies can really pull the rug out from family caregivers. They contend with low wages, unpredictable schedules, a lack of crucial benefits for part-time workers, and no paid leave. For many workers, losing just a few days of pay when a caregiving emergency comes up can wipe out a family’s entire monthly food budget.
Good jobs are jobs that recognize the reality of family responsibilities, and North Carolina is falling behind in good job creation. Our state continues to experience a rise of the low-wage labor market, one that disproportionately impacts communities of color and women. And while workers in other states are now benefitting from workplace policies that support caregivers (the California legislature just last week passed a bill guaranteeing about 6.5 million additional workers the right to earned paid sick days), North Carolina workers are still waiting for lawmakers to recognize the dignity and value of care and those who provide it.