When Your Spouse Falls Ill
Working wives are more likely to retire to care for sick spouse
FRIDAY, Oct. 18, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Working wives in late midlife looking after ill or disabled husbands are five times more likely to retire than those who aren't providing care for their husbands.
That's the finding of a study in the October issue of The Journal of Family Issues.
However, the opposite is true for men, says the study by Cornell University sociologists. Men providing care for ill or disabled wives are slower to retire than men not acting as caregivers for wives.
"How much caregiving influences whether an adult in late midlife will retire soon or not, however, largely depends on the strength of the relationship between the worker and the person needing caregiving," says study co-author Marin Clarkberg, an assistant professor of sociology.
"Caring for a spouse has the strongest -- and in the case of men, the only significant -- impact on shaping retirement timing," Clarkberg says.
"In our rapidly aging society, as much as 80 percent of care to elderly and disabled Americans is performed by families. We sought to determine how gender and the type of informal caregiving that late midlife workers provide influence the timing of retirement," says study co-author Emma Dentinger, a Cornell doctoral candidate.
The study used data collected in 1994 and 1995 from 763 employees and retirees, aged 50 to 72, from six large employers in upstate New York. It found that caring for a spouse had a much larger impact on a woman's decision to retire than caregiving for anyone else, including parents.
In general, the study found that a close relationship between the caregiver and the ill or disabled person had the greatest influence on a retirement decision.
The difference in retirement decisions between male and female caregivers may be financial. The study found male caregivers reported higher household incomes than their female counterparts, even though the male caregivers also reported less job satisfaction.
"The husbands seem to delay their retirement, therefore, for financial reasons, rather than a greater work commitment or a desire to escape their family life," Clarkberg says.
The researchers say this study's findings may not apply to baby boomers.
"The baby boom generation played a very significant role in transforming gender-role attitudes and female employment patterns. As it moves into caregiving roles, we may witness new struggles as couples and families negotiate informal caregiving roles in the context of retirement decisions," Clarkberg says.
There's information about many aspects of family caregiving at the Family Caregiver Alliance.