Women Often Quit Work to Help Parents

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Here’s just some of the evidence of the enormity of the challenge of caring for our elderly parents:

  • One in three baby boomer women cares for an elderly parent.
  • Even if they work, these caregivers devote anywhere from eight to 30 hours per week to that parent.
  • The estimated value of informal senior care provided by family members approaches $500 billion in this country – or double the amount spent on formal, paid care.

Caring for an elderly parent is usually done with love or out of a feeling of familial obligation. But there are real costs to taking on this responsibility, which most often lands squarely on a daughter’s shoulders. These costs could come in the form of lost wages and employer health insurance or in sacrifices of future pay raises or promotions. It’s also more difficult for older women to find a new job if they drop out of the labor force to help an ailing parent.

According to preliminary findings in a new study that used 20 years of data, taking care of a parent does significantly reduce the chances that women in their early 50s to early 60s are working.  Interestingly, the number of hours devoted to caring for a family member do not seem to affect women’s decisions about whether or not to work (though the researchers plan to revisit this finding).

But Sean Fahle of the State University of New York in Buffalo and Kathleen McGarry of UCLA said caregivers “may simply leave a job in order to provide care.”  Their paper was part of a series presented at the National Bureau of Economic Research this summer.

For women who do continue to work while providing care, however, a greater number of hours devoted to care reduces their earnings, they find in their study, which controls for the caregivers’ ages, levels of education, health and other factors that influence whether someone is able or willing to provide informal care.

As the researchers say, there is still much to learn about the financial impact of caregiving in the late stages of women’s careers. But Americans today are living longer than they ever have, and this issue is increasingly important.

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Wendy Weiss

Thanks for raising this issue. It is so important for children to make careful decisions about helping their aging parents. While love and obligation often move us (largely daughters) to act, we too rarely consider the financial consequences that you point out (lost future income and access to employee benefits, plus increased risks that we can not re-enter the workforce, because of age discrimination.)

The parallels with women’s decision to quit work to take care of young children are clear. Now we women need to help women think carefully and strategically about the impact of this decision on our long term financial security at both stages of life.


My parents asked me for two years to quit my job and take care of them, so I finally retired a couple of months shy of my 59th birthday. Wound care is 7 days a week. Sometimes my parents have medical appointments 5 days out of the week. My mother has not driven in years and my father only drives locally, so more and more of the burden falls to me. As an only child, there has never been another choice for me. As I sit in the doctor’s waiting rooms, I see both men and women caregivers taking care of their parents. Instead of telling us what we already know, how about coming up with solutions for the continuing caregiver crisis.


Huge issue — and, as usual, women’s contributions in this area are largely ignored.

Puja Pal

Women care for the entire family. She is a role model for sacrifice from childhood until death. We all should respect a woman for her role in our society.

Debbie Oveland

It is very expensive to be a caregiver, both emotionally and financially.

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