Throughout the world, women are the primary providers of care and support to the chronically ill. Caregiving, defined as providing support to an individual who could not live independently without that care, is divided into formal care, where payment is given as a professional to provide care, and informal, where payment is not provided. This chapter will focus on nonprofessionals, who are usually relatives or close friends. The terms caregiver and carer will be used interchangeably to refer to the person providing this care and support. In most parts of the world, at least 70-80% of carers are female. For people of older age, relatives are their most common carers. Children, daughters and daughters-in-law are most common, followed by spouses, then by other relatives such as nieces. For children, carers are most commonly mothers and when the family is a lone parent family, the overwhelming majority of parents again are mothers rather than fathers. This pattern appears common throughout developed and less developed world economies, although it is more gendered the less well-developed the economy. Within families one person is often the primary provider, but shared provision of care is also common. Those requiring caregiving range across the life span from infants to the very old. The rapid rise in life expectancy over the past century in developed countries and the more recent rise in developing countries means that there will be a significant increase in the number of caregivers for dependent elders. Declining birth rates in many countries suggests a dearth of available family carers in future decades at the same time as government resources for supporting such care are being challenged. Caregiving implies a broad range of activities. These include the provision of physical care, health monitoring, emotional support, financial support, medical decision making, out-of-home placement decisions and environmental modification. Caregiving often occurs in the context of family relationships and the conceptualization varies significantly by cultural and ethnic background. Nonetheless, there are generalizations that seem true across many groups and many different circumstances (Murray et al., 1999). The increasing participation of women in the formal workforce has increased the challenges that women face in being the primary providers of caregiving services because the dual expectations at work and in caregiving increase time pressure and emotional stress (Odanker, 1990).
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