Jackie Ashley’s piece in today’s Guardian is subtitled ‘the nation’s great untapped resource’ and makes a strong case for paying attention to the competences of older women. This generation of 50+ women is the first to have a high level of qualifications, and far fewer of them have no qualifications at all. So we need to think much more about how they can play a full part in paid as well as unpaid work. She makes a powerful argument that this affects us all, for fairness and efficiency reasons.
Ashley quotes some significant changes in attitude compared to 30 years ago. In 1984 65% of women agreed that a husband’s job was to earn money and wife’s to look after home and family – as she says, an astonishingly high figure. Now that’s down to 27%. Attitudes to work opportunities have changed even more substantially. Three decades ago just 13% thought employers gave them too few opportunities. That has risen to 70%, presumably reflecting not just their higher competences but also aspirations (see previous blog).
Eldercare is a growing issue. Almost everyone in my generation has some direct experience of the personal challenges it poses, as well as the political debate around social care. It has a big implications for the availability of older people. In some ways this echoes the childcare debate, but of course the circumstances are not symmetrical. Here’s how I put it in my draft chapter (the penultimate one – I’m getting there…):
“The debate on gendered eldercare lags far behind that of gendered childcare. In a way this is entirely understandable, since the demographic trends which make it increasingly salient today are quite recent. On the other hand, there is a very different complexion to the whole issue since the single-sex biology of motherhood is not mirrored in eldercare; there is no a priori reason why men should not share it equally. It is true that arguments about income foregone may still weigh in favour of men working rather than caring. They still are more likely to have the higher income, and therefore the household loses more if they give up or reduce their paid work. But the overall case for asymmetry in care responsibilities is far weaker. I sense that there is a much bigger debate to be had around this issue – perhaps even opening up new areas of psychology to do with later life parent-child relations, paralleling some of the exploration of what happens in early childhood. Even simply recognising the fact of one’s parents’ physical or psychological dependency can be a telling moment.”
Just as a matter of interest, does anyone know of research into children’s feelings about parental dependence?