Who Cares?

12 Nov 2019

Given increasing life expectancy and shifting social networks, proper care for the elderly is becoming ever more difficult to arrange. A network of Europe’s leading demographic research centers, Population Europe, has produced a policy brief addressing the need to secure such care, supporting both those in care and their caregivers.

Numerous factors have led to a decrease in availability of caregivers for an increasing pool of people in need of care. First of all, declining fertility has left people with fewer biological family members to begin with. Simultaneously, diversified family models have also extended direct kinship structures to include more distant or non-biological relations. Furthermore, the relations one does maintain may be less willing or able to provide care. For one thing, urbanization and migration have put physical distance between relatives that can make care arrangements impossible, impractical, or even undesirable, as distance can also weaken the bonds that inspire care. And potential caregivers are themselves facing greater demands on their time. As female work force participation and the overall length of employment increase, there are simply fewer people available to provide care. Those older people with a living spouse or partner and more living children and/or siblings stand the best chance of being cared for by loved ones, but these conditions are becoming less standard.

“A growing demand for care in the social context of smaller social networks could create tensions between generations and expose the most vulnerable groups of older individuals to a significant care deficit if public support is not ensured,” states the report. 

Added to the difficulties inherent in securing informal care are unstable conditions for formal arrangements. The report calls for standard qualifications and common educational standards for professional caregivers that include transferability of social security contributions and recognition of qualifications across borders. Such controls are necessary both to guarantee the security of those in care and the working conditions of care workers. 

Ageism was also noted as a hindering factor, as negative stereotypes toward the elderly can contribute to the devaluation of care work both informal and professional. Gender also plays a role, as women are both more likely to give care – both to their children and to other relatives – and more likely to require it (due to longer life expectancy). The report suggests looking into ways to account for periods of informal care giving as contributing towards social security.