I am sometimes asked why we have that phrase on our brochure and web site that says “Your Sister in Chicago.” The Chicago part is not where the question arises, but some ask why we talk about the “sister.” Well, we have discussed that among our own staff, but it really comes down to how roles sort out when it comes to caregiving. Aside from the fact that research shows that it is spouses who are more often the caregivers to one another than anyone else, it most often is the daughter than the son who is the caregiver to an older parent who needs the help.
The University of Michigan collects data from Americans every two years in what they call their Health and Retirement Study. It’s a survey of more than 26,000 adults over age 50 in America, and some of the recent findings shed some light on how caregiving sorts itself out by gender among adult siblings. The averages begin to tell the story. Daughters, the survey shows, perform 12.3 hours of caregiving to an older adult in an average month compared with fewer than 6 hours for the average son in a family. And when there are both a son and a daughter in the sibling mix, this sibling gender mix reduces the sons’ average hours while it increases the hours the daughters will spend in caregiving.
According to this survey, the pattern has remained essentially unchanged for more than two decades. There has been a consistent gender gap, and it is more pervasive that just elder caregiving. If you look to see who the stay at home parent is when families sort out responsibilities, women still outnumber men as the stay at home caregivers to children. The authors of the research suggested that it is not up to the daughters of America to more actively recruit their brothers to be involved in caregiving to mom or dad. They argue that the brothers ought to assert themselves into the mix as a remedy for the stress that daughters will experience as the disproportionate caregivers. Women may provide more care to the parents, but they also take on a larger share of the caregiver stress.
Yet, this gender gap is not always because men do not step up. We see cases in our own sphere where it seems that the sons’ voices do not get heard as much as the daughters, so maybe adult siblings of all genders need to do a better job of sharing the family caregiving responsibilities. But until we can proudly say that we are your “sibling” in Chicago, we will continue to be a sister to both the daughters and sons who are looking for a care navigator to help them with their care receivers.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to info@cr eativecaremanagement.com.