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Is the right family member the caregiver? Geography and gender are deciding factors.


Article by Jan King

Nearest but not Necessarily Dearest

A study of older mothers in the Boston Massachusetts area, recently published in The Gerontologist, shows that traditional expectations of who will care for elderly mothers haven’t changed much since the early years of the last century. Then, as now, daughters are expected to step into the breach when things go wrong. In my own family, my mother’s aunt, the youngest daughter, stayed at home to care for her ageing parents and never married. She became, by all accounts, a bitter old woman, and no wonder.

Mother and daughter

But there’s a subtle yet important difference between then and now. Elderly mothers know perfectly well who they would prefer to care for them, but they don’t always get their way. These days, thanks to distance and the fact that most children of elderly parents work, the favourite child is not always the one able to take on the burden of making sure mum is OK.

According to one of the authors of the study, Dr Karl Pillemer, the deciding factor is both geography and gender. ‘If you live closer, you’re vastly more likely to have caregiving thrust upon you,’ he says, ‘and if you’re the nearest daughter, it’s really likely.’ In fact, daughters were twice as likely to be care-givers to their mothers than sons, and children living within a two-hour drive were six times likelier to provide care for her than children living further away.

Care-givers are the working baby boomer daughters.

You might think that the deciding factor would be which child was closest emotionally to their mother or who had had the most support from her growing up, or who had the fewest demands on their time. But those factors paled into insignificance against the gender factor. And, guess what – the care-giving daughter is usually a working baby-boomer. Even more interestingly, if mothers are not cared for by their preferred daughter, they are more apt to suffer from depression.

So despite all the advances in gender equality since the 1960’s, it seems that when it comes to caring for mum, caring is still predominantly womens’ work.

Jan King

Jan King is a retirement and later life coach. Her background is in family and marital therapy, design, business and administration. She knows what retirement is like, because she’s retired once already herself. And she knows what career change is like, too, because she’s changed career as well. So she’s sympathetic to others going through the same process and is able to draw on both her coaching expertise as well as on her own experience of retirement and career change to help you plan your ideal future.

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Comments

  1. alessandra

    September 22, 2013

    This is a subject that touches a cord with me as I’m the daughter of parents in their late seventies. I have a brother, but I’m always been closer, emotionally, to my parents. Fact is, I live in the UK, I’m in my mid-fifties, and have a job I enjoy, a social life and a relationship I care deeply about. But I’m not married, have no children an I’m a woman and I feel increasing pressure for me to think about taking care of themm when they are older/ frailer/ill. And I resent the assumption I’m afraid.

  2. alessandra

    September 22, 2013

    I should have said that my parents live in Italy, my country of origin!

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