Women Caregivers More Likely to Live in Poverty
Women are the main caregivers, yet when women need care there is no one left to provide the care or there is no money to pay for care. A study shows that among those 85 and older, the percentage of men and women who need assistance is 56% of women and 38% of men. Many of these women live their last days in nursing homes. The percentage of males requiring assistance is lower because fewer men than women live until the age of 85.1 On average women live 13 or more years beyond their male counterparts and are the main caregivers for spouses.
Why do women live poverty in old age? Many reasons: divorce, separation, raising children and caring for older parents. Many women voluntarily opt out of the workforce to care for children and parents; this action is almost always expected. When and if women return to work, it is challenging, if not impossible, to return to their previous income level and career status due to the length of time out of the workforce. Many women accept lower paying positions with less opportunity for growth. Others work part time. For women, this job shifting results in a shorter time frame to save for retirement and to contribute to social security.
Then there is the cost of care for spouses and significant others. Statistics show that men live fewer years than women, meaning that they need care at an earlier age. The majority of financial resources owned by couples is contributed toward the care of the male (after all in most cases, he earned most of the money), leaving few if any resources to provide care for the surviving female spouse when needed. The health of female spouses is compromised by the act of caregiving, resulting in chronic health issues even after the spouse passes away. If there are few financial resources and no children willing to contribute to care — what then? Females over the age of 85 live in nursing homes on government assistance through Medicaid the remainder of their lives.
If you are a woman, consider the long term effects of opting out of the workforce to care for children or parents. Make sure you have retirement and savings accounts that will not go toward the care of your husband but your own care when the time comes. Write up a formal agreement. Ask your husband to purchase a long term care insurance policy for you and for him. Ask him to set up a separate investment account for you. This may seem silly, but this is practical advice to benefit your own health and well-being. After all you cared for others for years; you should receive care in return for the benefits of your labor.
1. Merck Manual of Geriatrics. http://www.merck.com/mrkshared/mmg/home.jsp Accessed September 20, 2006.
© 2012, 2013 Pamela D. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.