Adult Caregiving and Higher Education
In this month’s “Faculty Parent” post, Dr. Takashi Amano (Social Work, SASN) shares some recent research (including his own!) around aging and caregiving the United States. As we consider how to best foster supportive structures for faculty caregivers on our campus, he reminds us of the important (and often unseen) work of caretaking for older family members, and well as the multiple roles played by those RU-N community members in their “sandwich years,” i.e. parenting small children while simultaneously playing an active role in the care/wellbeing of a parent or older adult. Finally, Dr. Amano encourages us to think about the data we would need to capture in order to fully address our campus’s caregiving needs and embrace the diversity of an age-friendly university.
Family caregiving for older adults
Family caregivers for older adults tend to underutilize support services, and one of the major reasons for this underuse is that many do not identify themselves as caregivers, or at least not primarily so (Forfman, Berline, and Holmes, 1998; Strain & Blandford, 2002; Winslow, 2003). According to American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and The Chronicle of Higher Education (2020), only one in three students have informed an instructor or another staff member that they are caregiving for a family member. However, the emerging concept of the age-diverse (or age-friendly) university reflects a shift in the higher ed landscape by suggesting that universities should be a place where “students of all ages and life stages are valued and supported, and age diversity is a common feature of campus life” (Morrow-Howell, et al., 2020, p.1187). As higher education becomes less age-segregated, administrators and educators must revisit their assumptions about students' identities and labors solely or even primarily being directed at their academic pursuits.
According to National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP (2021), it is estimated that 53 million (21.3% of total population) adults were family caregivers in 2019. The vast majority of adult caregivers are caring for recipients age 50 and older (78.9%). One study suggested that 85% of help for older adults was provided by family members (Gitlin & Shulz, 2012). A report by AARP (2019) suggested that family caregivers are devoting unpaid work contributions worth an economic value of $470 billion. Nevertheless, because these contributions are largely unpaid, this type of caregiving work is often neglected. Furthermore, while family members have been and continue to be major providers of care for older adults, most family caregivers also maintain outside employment (or educational pursuits), a reality that rings true for many Rutgers University-Newark faculty, staff, and students.
How does caregiving impact the employment and education of the caregivers? According to role theory, having multiple roles may be beneficial if individuals have access to more resources through the additional roles they play (“role enhancement”). Alternatively, taking on multiple roles may be harmful if the individual does not have enough resources to fulfill sets of responsibilities (“role strain”). Caregiving for adults is often viewed from the role strain perspective (Wang, Amano, & Carter, 2021). Although caregiving can be fulfilling in many ways, evidence suggests that caregiving may lead to poor health, emotional distress, or financial strain, consequently affecting employment and education. A survey by AARP suggested that caregiving may negatively influence students’ academic achievements (AARP, 2020), indicating that role strain may have significant impacts on lives of student caregivers.
For most people, resolving the conflicts between caregiving and other roles is more difficult than a simple (re)distribution of resources. Caregiving roles are unequally distributed based on gender norms and societal expectations (Eifert et al., 2015). In the NAC/AARP survey, 61% of all caregivers were female and 50% of care recipients were parents or parents-in-law. Moreover, caregiving experiences differ across social groups. Fabius, Wolff, & Kasper showed that African American caregivers were younger and provided more intense care than White caregivers. Another study suggested that African Americans and Hispanics found more positive aspects of caregiving than Whites (Roth et al., 2015).
What should we do?
Given that caregiving for adults may negatively impact students and employees, it is clear that we need to establish some support systems. A necessary first step toward supporting campus caregivers must be to systematically capture data re: caregiving responsibilities on our campus, including employees and students. Another important step will be to shift our thinking about when and how caregiving becomes part of the lives of faculty, staff, and students.
As shown in the Figure below, many gerontologists think shifting our view of the human life course from the traditional age segregated one to new standard of continuous life course is necessary with the demographic changes we are living through. In the traditional segregated life course, we imagine that the primary focus for young people up to age 22 will be education, that career and family (caregiving) will be the focus for people aged 23 to 64, and that leisure will be the focus for individuals age 65 and up, even though the lives of real people rarely follow this precise pattern. In the new standard we can see that there is a focus on education as well as career and family (caregiving), and leisure in every phase of our lives. [See below graph]
In the United States, approximately 16% (54.1 million people) of the population were 65 or older in 2019 and the number is estimated to reach 21.6% by 2040 (ACL, 2021). Although most people who are 65 or older are independent and healthy, it is anticipated that our societal demand for adult care-giving services and providers, as well as family-based caregiving will increase. Accordingly, understanding and addressing the needs of caregivers for adults represents an important opportunity to diversify and support our campus community.
Takashi Amano, PhD is an Assistant Professor in Social Work (SASN) where his research focuses on gerontology.
Chronicle of Higher Ed & American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). “How One College Cares for Student Caregivers.” 2021. (Report can be downloaded here.)
Chronicle of Higher Ed & AARP. “The Challenges of Student Caregivers.” 2021.
Minkove, J. “Addressing Caregiver Strain Among Faculty,” John Hopkins Medicine. Oct 4, 2021.
Torres, S. “For Years, I Cared for Ailing Parents. Respite Shouldn’t Have Come Only With Their Deaths,” Washington Post: July 9, 2021.
Rutgers Adult Care Benefits:
Our employee discount benefit program, Abenity, has a few new discounts for childcare and adult care services and centers. You can access Abenity at https://rutgers.abenity.com or via the Rutgers HR employee discounts page: https://uhr.rutgers.edu/benefits/employee-discounts.
AFT members are also eligible for discounts on certain adult care services.
Administration for Community Living, 2020 Profile of Older Americans. May 2021.
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Staying the Course: How Dual Responsibilities Create Challenges for Student Caregivers. September 2020.
AARP & National Alliance for Caregiving, 2020 Report: Caregiving in the U.S. May 2020.