The Persistent Feminization and Devaluation of Elder Care


Specific Aim #1 Feminization indicators: develop a set of harmonized measures about the feminization of paid and unpaid elder care. We will use survey data on time-use and job occupations across 30 countries and 4 decades to track trends in the feminization of paid and unpaid elder care. The feminization of unpaid elder care will be measured as women’s share of the total amount of time spent on eldercare in a population. For instance, if five out of ten women spend 40 hours per week taking care of an elder relative and one out of ten men do the same, the ratio of women to men’s time spent in care will be 200:40 or 5 and women’s share of unpaid care work will be 83%. The measure for the feminization of paid elder care will be similar; it will be calculated as the percent of women in elder care jobs. For instance, in the US women represent 85% of home care workers. Specific Aim #2 Devaluation indicators: develop a set of harmonized measures about the devaluation of paid and unpaid elder care. We will use survey data combined with information from policy indicators (see below) to estimate the earnings penalty associated with specializing in care work, either in the market or in the family. The devaluation of paid care work measure will compare earnings of care workers with the earnings of non-care workers in jobs at a similar skill level. The devaluation of unpaid care work will consider both foregone earnings and government subsidies (i.e. tax breaks or allowances) that “reward” unpaid caregiving. Specific Aim #3 Social policy indicators: develop a dataset of social policies that shape the distribution of caregiving and the penalties to caregiving in paid and unpaid domains. We will compile a comprehensive list of care policies for all 30 countries and 4 decades that will include things like care leaves (length, eligibility, paid/unpaid, replacement level, etc.), care allowances (length, eligibility, amount, etc.), tax breaks or credits to purchase care services, and other policy tools. Specific Aim #4 Big-picture descriptive paper: Write a descriptive article that presents the problem of shortages in caregiving labor supply and the stubborn persistence of feminization and devaluation in caregiving. This paper will present the new framework that conceptualizes caregiving as a social system. I will also prepare an op-ed version of this big-picture paper and release it with a website that will offer an interactive map about the feminization and devaluation of caregiving to the broader public. Specific Aim #6 Fundraising for next steps: Quartet funds will be devoted to the first stage of this project and fund data collection, harmonization, and descriptive analyses. The second stage of this project will be devoted to in-depth analyses that will leverage cross-country and cross-domain variation to interrogate the causes and implications of the devaluation and feminization of care. I plan to use the results from the first stage of this research to apply for NSF, NIA, and NIHCHD.


Care work, both paid and unpaid, is currently under unprecedented pressure. Population aging and the lengthening of life expectancy are increasing demand for care labor, at the same time that existing social arrangements to meet care needs for the elderly are falling short. The pool of both paid and unpaid caregivers is compressing, in part due to the high economic penalties to specializing in caregiving, either in the family or in the market. This project argues that the feminization and devaluation of caregiving are central to understand shortages in caregiving labor supply and thus central, too, to imagine solutions to the current care crisis. To test this argument, I propose the first comprehensive and comparative analysis about the feminization and devaluation of elder caregiving across countries and care domains –paid and unpaid caregiving. I will use data from the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS) on paid care workers and data from the Multinational Time Use Survey (MTUS) on unpaid caregiving. Both datasets compile and harmonize nationally representative surveys and cover 30 countries and span over 4 decades. These data will be combined with a social policy dataset that will compile policy tools that shape the distribution and penalties of paid and unpaid caregiving (i.e. care leave, care allowances, pension regimes, etc.). This will build an unprecedented map on the political economy of elder care that will serve as a springboard for a novel research agenda on the origins and implications of devaluation and feminization of eldercare. This project contributes to the theme on economics and financing of health and aging by offering a gender and labor perspective that integrates and highlights the interdependency between paid and unpaid caregiving. This perspective will be developed to empirically interrogate how and why the feminization and devaluation persists over time and how it can be undone. This project also fills key gaps in sociological literature about paid and unpaid care work. This project presents the first large-N cross-national study of elder caregiving, it will integrate scholarship on unpaid and paid caregiving, and it will systematically examine the relationship between feminization and devaluation. Taken together, this project will offer a birds’ eye view on the political economy of elder care and why it matters for the future of caregiving, the well-being of the elderly, population health, and the economy at large.

Funded By: 
P30 Pilots
Award Dates: 
August 1, 2019 - June 30, 2020