By Joshua Garner
It’s an interesting time to be a man in America.
While the progressive and evolving tone of gender equity has focused on women’s rights and empowerment in recent years, lost among the headlines about the Me Too Movement, women’s equity, and rights are the realities facing men in this country who are increasingly taking on more responsibilities within the family structure.
This fall recognizes National Family Caregivers Month, an annual observance honoring family caregivers. This year’s awareness period is a potent one for young men like myself—a 30-something male who has found myself a caregiver for an elderly parent while also in the prime of my life.
And I’m not alone.
Recent statistics on caregivers are quickly becoming out of sync with the image of caregiving. While current number suggest 65 percent of caregivers are female, with an average age of 69.2, younger caregivers are more likely to be male; 45 percent of them fall between 18-45, according to 2015 figures from the National Alliance For Caregiving. 2017 figures from AARP suggested an even greater pendulum shift toward males with 40 percent, roughly 40 million, of caregivers being men.
And shifting currents in the U.S. population suggest the number of young male caregivers will only increase. By 2030, Baby Boomers will all be over the age of 65 and, for the first time in U.S. history, older people will outnumber children, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And by 2060, adults over the age of 65 will make up nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population.
All of the above might seem far and away but for some men, it is very much in the here and now. I remember countless conversations with my male gym trainers about our fathers—both over the age of 65 that we care for who are dealing with a deluge of health issues: Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, dementia, and heart disease to name a few. Our confessions to each other were always met with exhaustion and fear—not only for our fathers but for ourselves: who would take care of us when we’re of a certain age?
But the troubles facing most male caregivers extend beyond just fear and exhaustion. Unlike myself, most caregivers don’t share responsibilities with a team of family members and nurses. And for many caregivers, caring for a loved one comes with a financial burden as well. Unlike women, men are less likely to alter their work lives and take less demanding jobs while caregiving, according to the AARP. For those that do alter their work schedule and leave their job, they’ll lose, on average, $304,000 in wages over their lifetime.
In a society that places great value on intellect, performance, and self-sufficiency, the gradual loss of one’s physical and mental faculties is unsettling, particularly for the loved ones of the individual in decline. My experiences echo what many male caregiver face: watching a loved one’s slow and gradual decline.
Men are already less likely to seek medical and mental health than women—the same is true when it comes to emotional support, particularly the kind of support that isn’t easy to talk about but can weigh heavy on one’s emotional and mental health. This fall and year-round it’s important to support all us who are caregivers for loved ones and acknowledge the changing face of caregiving in the U.S.
Joshua Garner is the Director of Communications for Men’s Health Network, a Washington, D.C.-based international nonprofit organization that advocates for the health and wellness of men, boys, and families.