As millions of baby boomers enter retirement and as medical technology allows seniors to live longer than ever, more men are becoming caregivers for their loved ones, upending stigmas that caregiving is the work of women. As a 2012 Pew Research analysis on family caregiving shows, 45 percent of U.S. caregivers are now men.
The increase has been swift and substantial. Just about fifteen years ago, only some 19 percent of those looking after older or disabled family members were men, according to ABC News and the National Alliance for Caregiving.
“[I]ncreasingly men are being thrust into (or welcoming) the role of caregiver- for their children and/or aging parents- while working full-time jobs,” writes caregiving expert Alexis Abramson for The Huffington Post.
Cultural changes about what constitutes masculine and feminine work also seem to be contributing to the rise in male caregivers.
According to analysis from Leann Reynolds, a contributor to the Good Men Project, “Such an increase in the proportion of male caregivers can be explained by a combination of social and demographic changes,” such as the greater geographic separation of family members, smaller families and shifting gender roles.
As Richard Nix, executive vice president of Aging Care, told ABC News, ”It’s OK for men to cry now.”
Still, some male caregivers face discrimination from the workplace for their time spent caregiving. According to Abramson, male caregivers may “unfortunately face a tougher time than women from employers who are used to caregivers being, well, women!”
She writes how male caregivers are more likely to be victims of “caregiver stigma,” as caregiving is associated with feminine traits, that she insists, are not yet valued in the workplace. ”Sadly a man who requests time off to take his elderly mother to a doctor’s appointment might just as well be announcing plans to attend a retreat ‘to get in touch with his feminine side,’ ” Abramson writes.
Similarly, Fortune and CNN Money report that the growing number of men taking on caregiving roles has contributed to the overall spike in employee discrimination claims, analysis confirmed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“Employers are often more relaxed in applying blatant sexual discrimination against male caregivers,” Elizabeth Grossman, an attorney in the EEOC New York district, told Fortune. “When invoking parental leave, some supervisors might say ‘Oh no, that’s for women.’ There are some pretty entrenched stereotypes.”
The Center for WorkLife Law reports how one man was told by supervisors he would be “cutting his own throat” if he took time off to care for his sick father.
From 2006 to 2010, 147 family responsibility discrimination cases brought by male plaintiffs were decided in court, according to data from WorkLife. Fortune estimates this data reflects a 300 percent increase compared to the number of such decisions from 2001 to 2005.
Learn more from the Life Matters Media Newswire: