My husband and I are often asked why we had our children seven years apart. We’ve always joked that we finally had a second child when we realized we couldn’t count on our daughter to care for us when we were old. Our second child, a boy to carry on the Koehler name, is just as sweet as can be. Yet, according to the American Sociological Association (ASA), the joke is really on us.
The ASA released a study this month about the role sibling gender plays in caregiving. They determined that parents are better off having daughters if they want to be cared for in their old age. The reason: women appear to provide as much elderly parent care as they can, while men contribute as little as possible.
The study claims that daughters provide an average of 12.3 hours of care each month compared to their brothers’ 5.6 hours. So that means the girls are doing twice as much caregiving for Mom and Dad.
I’m sure thousands of families could’ve anecdotally told you this same scenario, but now we have science to back it up.
And the question to all of this is: Why is this happening, and how do we fix it?
Let’s look at the Why. A friend recently told me it was because women are natural caregivers. What does that mean? Because we have a womb we instinctively know how to care for someone? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to bumble and fake my way through caregiving. I guess my womb failed me. But the truth is, people do believe women are natural caregivers, and this belief and the expectations that come along with it have serious ramifications.
Here’s another scenario. Men tend to be further along in their careers by the time caregiving duty calls. Their sisters have taken time off to raise children, or their careers haven’t advanced as quickly due to various other reasons (and that’s an entirely different issue). So the women are seen to be sacrificing less by being the caregiver and are nudged to step up into the caregiving role.
And what is the danger to women taking on this role instead of their brothers? Withdrawing from the workforce means they stop contributing to Social Security and aren’t able to save for their own futures through pensions or private savings. All of this is a recipe for an impoverished old age.
So what do we do now? How do we fix this and make caregiving more equitable among the siblings whether they have a womb or not?
There are so many factors that need to change in order for this to work. As a society, we need to begin recognizing men as great caregivers. A little girl holds a doll and we exclaim, “What a good little mama you are!” When a boy does the same thing, we are quick to swap the doll with a “boy” toy, or we ignore the caring act all together.
As moms, we need to allow our husbands to play a larger role in the care of our children so they can experience caregiving early on. I’m hopeful that the recent Stay at Home Dad movement will have a positive impact on the equality in caregiving for the aging population.
Beyond the social changes, employers need to provide resources and benefits for working caregivers that will allow them to not only stay in the workforce longer, but provide care for their aging parents or spouse. The government and employers stepped up with tax credits, maternity leave, and other benefits when more and more mothers joined the workforce, and now it’s time to look at the other end of the spectrum. Before long, the number of Americans 65-years old or older will far outnumber those under the age of 5.
I’d love to hear how the caregiving works in your family. Do the daughters do more than the sons? Are there no daughters, so the boys take on the caregiving? As for our house? I’m pretty sure our daughter will move far away to avoid any caregiving duties, so I’m hoping that beautiful little boy of ours stays a mama’s boy!
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