Published Papers - Abstract 68

Lee C. Family Caregiving: A gender-based analysis on women's experiences. , 2001; : 123-139

This chapter presents quantitative and qualitative data which illustrate the need for a gender-based analysis of family caregiving. Caregiving responsibilities must be seen in the context of contemporary women’s lives. In particular, the assumption that all women are naturally suited to caregiving and will always be able to find the personal and financial resources to cope with the needs of a family member are questioned by the evidence. The quantitative data show that caregivers experience poor mental health, are limited financially and in employment opportunities, and feel stressed and overworked. Interestingly, the middle-aged caregivers seem to be in poor physical health while the older women are in relatively good health. This may result from older women in poor health being more able to access professional health care for their family members. The qualitative data present a picture of women coping with difficult situations with little practical support. The middle-aged women describe restrictions on employment opportunities, concerns about their own physical health, and a sense of abandonment and exploitation by the health and social security systems. The older women, reflecting the more traditional gender-role attitudes of women in their age group, appear more likely to have internalized the ethic of care, to the extent that a large number see no alternative to full-time caregiving even when they recognise their own needs for rest or time out, and many continue to care for family members even after they have been institutionalized. Others interpret difficult personal circumstances as simply what should be expected at their age, or describe their arduous lives in positive terms as an opportunity to demonstrate their lifelong devotion to family members. The findings of this study, although cross-sectional, provide further evidence of the dilemma being faced by women who take on a caregiving role in a society which provides no acknowledgement and very little support for this significant family role. Provision of public services should be combined with adequate financial support for family caregivers, including acknowledgement and support of the travel needs of frail people and their caregivers who live in isolated areas. Such a change to public policy might increase the extent to which caregiving became a genuine choice, and might serve to change the perceived balance between the burdens and satisfactions of caregiving.