Older women spend more than double the amount of time than older men on unpaid work such as caring for family members and domestic chores, new research by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has found.
A new report, ‘Between work and care: Older women’s economic empowerment’, reveals the extent to which gender inequalities around unpaid work persist into older age, with older women spending on average more than four hours a day on household work including cooking, cleaning, collecting firewood and water, as well as caring responsibilities.
The report describes how the life choices of women over the age of 60 are often limited. In addition to carrying out a disproportionate amount of unpaid domestic and care work compared to men, older women are increasingly entering the labour market to ensure financial stability. This is because social protection systems in low- and middle-income countries are not designed to take into account women’s life course experiences, and how these affect their income security in older age.
The report argues that as the number and share of older women in the global population is increasing, it is crucial that they have equal access to pensions regardless of their work patterns.
Through analysing data in 31 countries, along with first-hand field work in Ethiopia, the research builds up a picture of the time pressures increasingly facing older women around the world.
The report’s authors are now calling for governments to urgently refocus their social protection policy and programmes to support older women’s income security and reduce unpaid work.
Lead author Fiona Samuels, senior research fellow in the ODI’s Gender Equality and Social Inclusion programme, said: ‘These findings reveal the full extent to which gender inequalities persist into older age and show there is an urgent need for governments around the world to consider the needs of older women in their social protection policies.
‘The social expectations on women to simply get on with unpaid domestic and care work are putting them under increasing strain and limiting their life choices.’
Analysis of the amount of time women in different age groups spent on unpaid work, in the 31 countries where data is available, found that those over the age of 60 on average spent more than four hours daily on unpaid work, and in one country as many as seven hours.
Researchers found particular risks for older women engaging in work such as physical and mental health concerns, experiences of violence, discrimination and abuse, and financial loss due to the demands of juggling multiple activities.
Chris Roles, Managing Director of Age International, who commissioned the research, said: ‘Older women sustain their families, communities and economies through the work they do, work that is often unpaid or that few others are willing to do. Yet older women and the contributions they make are so often invisible and undervalued.
‘We’re calling on the UK Government to do more to ensure older women are recognised and valued in its international development programmes. More support is needed so that older women are treated equally in society and have greater choice over the kind of unpaid or paid work they do, and how much work they do.’
The report makes a series of recommendations for governments to help support older women and their economic empowerment, including:
- Ensure older women are fully involved in all decisions that affect their lives, from government policy to NGO programmes and community activities
- Support older women’s income security by ensuring access to social protections, including universal social pensions, as well as to assets and financial services
- Reduce and redistribute unpaid care work through better care provisions, such as quality and affordable childcare and long-term care and support, as well as shifting norms around the gendered division of care
Notes to editors
- The report, ‘Between work and care: Older women’s economic empowerment’, is due to be published on Thursday 15 November
- Researchers analysed new data compiled by the French academic Jacques Charmes for 31 countries which illustrated the amount of paid work and unpaid care that older women do alongside that of older men
- Researchers also carried out 35 interviews and held focus groups with a range of respondents in Ethiopia, including older women (who differed in age, family size and socio-economic status), members of their families, policy makers and civil society representatives
- Data from the International Labour Organisation's 2017 publication ILO labour force estimates and projections (LFEP) 2018: key trends shows the proportion of older women who participate in the labour market has risen at a faster rate than that of older men since 1990
For more information, to see a full copy of the report or to arrange an interview with one of the authors please contact James Rush on [email protected] or +44 (0)7808 791265
About the Overseas Development Institute
ODI is an independent, global think tank, working for a sustainable and peaceful world in which every person thrives. We harness the power of evidence and ideas through research and partnership to confront challenges, develop solutions, and create change.
About Age International
Age International is a charity focusing on older people in developing countries. It is a subsidiary charity of Age UK, a member of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) and the UK member of the global HelpAge network. Age International raises funds in the UK to support the relief and development work of HelpAge in over 30 developing countries. It also raises awareness in the UK about the needs of older people in developing countries. And it engages in influencing and campaigning work in the UK to change policies and approaches towards older people. For further information, please visit our website www.ageinternational.org.uk/whocares . Follow us on Twitter @AgeInt #OlderWomenMatter