MIT has a special research group called the AgeLab that works with businesses, NGOs, and government organizations to improve the quality of life of older people and those who care for them. At any given time, the MIT AgeLab has multiple active studies focused on older Americans and their caregivers. Since their inception, one of their core findings is how central women are to the caregiving ecosystem.

Most family caregivers are female

The MIT AgeLab talks often about the importance of the “oldest adult daughter.” In the United States, 75% of all family caregivers are women. In most families, it is the oldest adult daughter who often takes over the caregiving role, even if she is not necessarily the oldest child. 

The AgeLab puts forth several possible explanations for this. One reason is societal. In interviews, many women caring for their parents went back to values that were instilled in them as children — caring for others, being a homemaker, and generally assuming girls to be more nurturing. 

Interestingly, this willingness to step up and be a family caregiver appears to not be tied to employment status. Women with careers were just as likely to step into a family caregiver role as those who are/were stay-at-home mothers. Caregiving is a large burden for anyone to take on, even more so if caregivers are also juggling their own home and work responsibilities. 

Female Caregiving – Key Facts:

  • The average caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who works outside of the home. 
  • The average female family caregiver provides 20 hours per week of unpaid care.
  • Female caregivers may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than male caregivers.
  • Female caregivers experience approximately $40,000 more in negative impact to their retirement fund than men.
  • Women who provide assistance to multiple family members or friends have 50% higher odds of retiring than non-caregiving women.
  • Caregiving reduces paid work hours for middle-aged women by about 41 percent. 

Stats from the Family Caregiving Alliance

The value of caregivers is irreplaceable

Unpaid family caregivers represent a huge financial contribution to the economy. Altogether, they create about $587.5 billion worth of output every year. While more resources are being rolled out for these caregivers, it isn’t close to keeping pace with the work they put in. Right now, there simply isn’t a good way to replace that amount of labor, especially as the huge Baby Boomer population continues to age. 

With women representing 75% of family caregivers, it is important to address their unique needs in the tools and resources we offer. 

Check out the original MIT AgeLab article here