‘Because it’s the wife who has to look after the man’: A descriptive qualitative study of older women and the intersection of gender and the provision of family caregiving at the end of life

Williams, L.A. Palliative Medicine. Published online: 1 July 2016.

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Background: Research indicates that women are the primary family caregivers for others at life’s end and, because of ageing populations, will keep fulfilling this role as they age. Yet, little is known about how the gendered nature of caregiving contributes to older women’s understandings of providing care.

Aim: To explore how gender norms constructed older women’s views about the appropriate roles of women and men in providing palliative and end-of-life care for family members.

Design: Six focus groups were conducted with 39 community dwelling older adults (36 women and 3 men) using two vignettes to prompt discussion about experience of end of life caring and attitudes towards Advance Care Planning. This article reports on data gathered from female participants’ reactions to Vignette 1 which prompted significant discussion regarding the intersection of gender and older women’s caregiving experience.

Setting/participants: A total of 36 women in the age ranges of ‘50–59 years’ through to ‘90–99 years’ from New Zealand.

Results: Three themes regarding gender and caregiving were identified: the expectation women will care, women’s duty to care and women’s construction of men in relation to caregiving and illness. The women adhered to stereotypical gender norms that regard women as primary caregivers. There was little connection between the burden they associated with caregiving and this gender construction.

Conclusion: The expectation that older women will provide end-of-life care even when experiencing considerable burden is an unacknowledged outcome of gender norms that construct women as caregivers.

Read the abstract here

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