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The Battle of the Sexes: Long Term Care Version

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Fifty years ago, Billie Jean King (then age 29) soundly beat self-proclaimed male chauvinist Bobby Riggs (then age 55) in an event dubbed the Battle of the Sexes. Although a lot has changed in American society since the ‘70s (for better or worse), when you look at long term care what you often see is a throwback to traditional gender roles.

It’s important to understand that, as I’ve indicated in previous articles, long term care is frequently a women’s problem. Here’s one reason why: on average women live longer than men, therefore women are more likely to need extended long term care. Also, whether single or coupled, they’re more likely to need to rely on professional (read: paid) caregiving, since they’re more likely to outlive male partners.

So, not only are women more likely to need extended care, they’re more likely to face their care alone.

Moreover, when they are caregivers for someone else, a female “informal” caregiver (read: unpaid) is more likely than a male to be a primary caregiver. Primary caregivers provide more intensive care, and more hours of care per week (27 hours a week, on average, vs. 18 hours a week for a non-primary caregiver). 

The news is also not good for adult daughters of those needing care. Of course, an adult of any gender who happens to be an only child understands that when mom or dad needs care, the caregiver spotlight will be squarely on them. But what if there’s also a brother? While individual situations can of course vary, studies show that the burden of caregiving falls disproportionately on daughters.  

Here’s an interesting insight, provided by a research paper presented at an American Sociological Association meeting. Daughters provide the caregiving they can manage while also juggling jobs, childcare, and other constraints. However, sons’ caregiving is different. It’s highly dependent on the presence (or absence) of other caregivers. “Sons reduce their relative caregiving efforts when they have a sister, while daughters increase theirs when they have a brother,” explains study author, Angelina Grigoryeva, PhD. “This suggests that sons pass on caregiving responsibilities to their sisters.”

Why? Are women inherently better suited to be caregivers? Or, are they conditioned by society to think they are…and to feel guilt if they don’t step up to help out? A 2017 Pew Research Center survey seems to confirm this perception, since only one percent of respondents believed men would do a better job of caregiving than women.  

Perhaps the best take on this topic belongs to Anne-Marie Botek, a contributing writer to She writes, “While there are plenty of male caregivers stepping up to provide excellent care for their parents, spouses, friends and other family members, the truth is that families typically look to women first to serve in this role.”

Could it be that women are stepping up to be a caregiver for a family member as a rational response to the wage gap? It’s widely documented that, on average, women earn less than their male relatives. Therefore, in many family units, it may make less financial sense for the male partner to cut back his hours (or quit his job) than it does for the female to do so.

Sometimes it comes down to logistics. No matter what the gender, the adult child who is often geographically closest to Mom or Dad is the logical choice for primary caregiver. Often this means if that’s a daughter, she’s now in charge of caregiving! If that’s a son—well, studies seem to show that maybe their female spouse or partner will step up! The takeaways are many—and they are breathtaking. Women who put their careers on the backburner to be caregivers can never recover lost earnings. And let’s not forget that retirement savings, and programs such as Social Security, are often based on earnings.  

Caregiving duties often come up during peak earning years, in one’s 50s or 60s…as parents are in their 80s and 90s. No matter the gender of the caregiver, it may be difficult to ramp up or return to the workforce when you’ve cut back to be a caregiver in your pre-retirement years.  

Of all the takeaways, here’s the one I believe may be the most important: now is the time to consider who in your family might take a primary caregiving role as you age and may need help. Whether that person would be able and willing to manage paid caregivers, or actually provide the necessary hands on-care—thinking through some of the challenges ahead of time can be very helpful. So can a long term care insurance policy to both pay for professional caregiving, and allow your caregiver to avoid some of the irrevocable financial losses they may otherwise experience.

With the right plan, and the right funding, you might just single-handedly defeat the formidable opponent of long term care in straight sets. Just like Billie Jean King. 

If you have any questions about your long term care insurance or planning please do be in touch. Baygroup Insurance can be contacted at or call us at 410-557-7907 for more information.