University sociologists calculate caregivers' risk of living
in poverty Taking on the role of caregiver earlier in life
can worsen women's economic well-being later in life, according
to a study by sociologists at Rice University in Houston.
data from the 1992 and 2000 Health and Retirement Study,
the researchers analyzed the long-term financial effects
of caring for elderly parents.
women assumed caregiver roles, they were 2.5 times more
likely than non-caregivers to live in poverty and five times
more likely to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI),"
wrote Katharine Donato and Chizuko Wakabayashi in a paper
that will be presented today at the annual meeting of the
American Sociological Association in San Francisco.
is an associate professor of sociology at Rice; Wakabayashi
is a Rice sociology postdoctoral student who has received
funding from Houston Endowment Inc. to work on the Houston
and private agencies have sought ways to lower costs by
shifting the burden of elder care to families; as a result,
approximately 80 percent of elder care is now provided by
family members, mostly women. "The potential economic and
social consequences of informal elder care for these women
may be enormous," said Donato, noting that approximately
45 percent of females who are 18 or older are not currently
married, and many simultaneously assume both roles as earners
time spent taking care of elderly parents is likely to compete
with women's employment opportunities, creating losses in
working hours and earnings. The cumulative effect of this
scenario contributes to elderly women's disproportionately
higher risk of living in poverty. In 2002, 14 percent of
women who are 75 or older lived in poverty, but only 8 percent
of comparably aged men lived in poverty.
Health and Retirement Study that Donato and Wakabayashi
used for their research is an ongoing national longitudinal
study that has been conducted every two years from 1992
to 2002 by the University of Michigan's Population Studies
Center and the National Institute on Aging. The initial
study sample consisted of 12,654 people between the ages
of 51 and 61 and their spouses and partners in 7,608 households
that represent over-samples of Hispanics, blacks and Florida
examine the effects of women's caregiving on the risk of
living in poverty, the Rice researchers used a sample of
685 women who had at least one living parent during 1991-92
and were at least 65 years old eight years later (1999-2000).
To understand the effects of caregiving on women's receipt
of SSI, the researchers used a second sample of 465 women
from these same categories, but with one additional criterion:
the women were not receiving SSI or Social Security benefits
in 1991-92. SSI is a federal income supplement program that
provides cash benefits to the aged, permanently blind and
totally disabled whose annual incomes are well below the
federal poverty line.
and Wakabayashi compared the demographics of the caregivers
and non-caregivers. Caregivers were more likely than non-caregivers
to have less than a high school education (34 vs. 22 percent
in the first sample and 29 vs. 17 percent in the second
sample). Caregivers were also significantly more likely
to be single (40 percent in the first sample and 52 percent
in the second). More than 80 percent of the caregivers and
non-caregivers had at least one sibling.
adverse impact of caregiving was especially severe for women
who took on this role in their early sixties," Donato said.
Fifteen percent of women 60-61 years old who were caregivers
were likely to live in poverty, compared to 4 percent of
the non-caregivers. Among women 58-59 years old, the likelihood
of poverty for caregivers and non-caregivers was only 6
percent and 5 percent, respectively. "This finding has serious
implications because it suggests more daughters are becoming
caregivers of parents who are 85 or older," Donato said.
researchers used their data to predict whether and how the
caregiving experience affects the likelihood of living in
poverty and receiving SSI. Among their findings:
Compared to those who completed high school, women caregivers
with less than a high school education were three times
more likely to live in poverty and 10 times more likely
to be SSI recipients. * Non-married caregiving women were
four times more likely to live in poverty and 46 percent
more likely to rely on SSI in later life than were married
predicted probability of living in poverty for non-white
caregivers was 29 percent, compared to only nine percent
for white caregivers.
a previous study, Donato and Wakabayashi analyzed the substantial
reduction in weekly hours worked and annual earnings of
women who took time to care for elderly parents. The amount
varied according to demographics, but some caregivers experienced
a reduction of more than $10,000 in annual earnings. Despite
such outcomes, the researchers noted that informal caregiving
is still not recognized as a public concern.
echo that observation in the current study and suggest ways
to remedy a situation that is likely to increase public
expenses in the long run as women assume the responsibility
of elder care and increase their risk of poverty and reliance
on public assistance.
is needed is a system that shares the burden of elder care
between private families and state and federal governments,"
said Wakabayashi. One way to share the responsibility of
elder care might be to cover more home- and community-based
services. "The longer we can keep the elderly living in
their homes and communities, the more we can control the
costs of elder care by postponing or avoiding expensive
nursing home placements," she said.
strategy for sharing costs is to provide government compensation
to family members who have assumed the role of caregiver,
especially to low-income caregivers.
and Wakabayashi acknowledge that such changes represent
a considerable expense for federal and local governments.
"But without this intervention, more elderly women are certain
to live below the poverty threshold in the next 20 years
- after caregiving and surviving their parents," the authors
wrote in their paper.
by Rice University (http://media.rice.edu) on 08/16/2004.