Women’s Day: new challenges

Nieuws | de redactie
8 maart 2012 | Combining career and children is often seen as a major challenge for women. Today, on International Women’s Day, demographers from ‘Population Europe’ see a new challenge dawning: in an ageing Europe the unpaid care for elderly will largely fall on- already juggling - women.

In the near future, childcare might not be the only activitylimiting women’s involvement in the labour market. Data fromBritain shows that already 15% of women aged 50 and over areproviding informal care for an elderly person. 

Given rising life expectancy and greater numbers of peoplesurviving into ‘old’ old age, it is likely that elder careresponsibilities will increase across all the countries consideredhere and that the burden of this additional care may well falldisproportionately on women. This is shown by recent research doneby University of Southampton. They expect that a high proportion ofthose who take on caring responsibilities in mid-life are inpart-time work or have to give up work altogether. 

Therefore, it is quite likely that a combination of unpaid careand paid labour will continue to be a characteristic feature ofwomen’s work-biographies – and subsequently a big challenge to ourpension systems. 

‘Women friendly’ pensions 

Jane C. Falkingham, Director of the ESRC Centre for PopulationChange (UK), and her research team suggest that ‘women friendly’pension systems should both, reward their contributions in paidwork, as well as valued unpaid activities like caring for childrenand elderly. Falkingham:”For example, by more explicitly linkingcredited contributions to valued activities, as it is alreadyhappening in the UK and Germany, and by de-coupling spouse andsurvivor benefits from women’s own entitlements.” 

It is well-documented that women typically fare worse than menin retirement on measures of economic well-being. Cross-nationalcomparisons of retirement outcomes by gender and othersocioeconomic characteristics have found that poverty rates areconsistently higher among older women, in particular older womenliving alone, and that this pattern is evident in all countries tovarying degrees 

The lower incomes of women are linked to their assumed role asprimary carers and the impact this has on their engagement in thelabour market and consequently their ability to build up anadequate income for their retirement. 

Possible measures 

Here there is undoubted room for improvement, for example bymore explicitly linking credited contributions to valuedactivities, such as caring for younger children (as is alreadyhappening in the UK and Germany), and by de-coupling spouse andsurvivor benefits from women’s own entitlements in order to rewardprior contributions (including a proper valuation of unpaid caringactivities). 

The association between older women’s incomes and work historiesis strongest in West Germany and weakest in the UK, where there isevidence of a ‘pensions poverty trap’ and where only predominantlyfull-time employment is associated with significantly higherincomes in later life. Work history matters less for widows (in allthree countries) and more for recent birth cohorts and moreeducated women (UK only).

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