Who Cares?

In an article in The Times on 17/5/17, “Caring for the elderly shouldn’t be a girl’s job“, Alice Thomson criticises Mrs May’s manifesto policy to force companies to allow workers to take up to a year of unpaid leave to look after an elderly or sick relative. Her gripe is that “it’s women who are going to bear the brunt of this new plan“. I will make no comment on the policy itself, only on the factual veracity, or otherwise, of this claim of Thomson’s.

Thomson pads out her article with a number of misdirecting irrelevancies, such as issues around paid caring, and maternity versus paternity leave. The issue, though, is who are the unpaid carers? The only ‘evidence’ Thomson offers in the article is,

It’s women who are going to bear the brunt of this new plan….Daughters are twice as likely as sons to become carers, according to the Office for National Statistics

Probably most people would think so – because most people have the impression that almost all unpaid caring is done by women. But it isn’t.

I recall that, in 2014, the Men’s Health Forum published a report which showed that, over all age ranges, men are 42% of unpaid carers. I looked it up again to make sure. Here it is,

More than four in ten (42%) of the UK’s unpaid carers are male, dispelling the stereotype that caring is a female issue, according to a new report from the Men’s Health Forum and Carers Trust. The report ‘Husband, Partner, Dad, Son, Carer?’ was commissioned to look into the experiences and needs of male carers and to help raise awareness of the fact that male carers may not be getting the support they need. Martin Tod, chief executive of the Men’s Health Forum said: “The UK’s 2.5 million male carers have been ignored for too long. They make a vital contribution, but face real extra health and work challenges that aren’t always properly addressed.”

It’s worth dwelling on that 42% statistic. Recall that, in round terms, men do 620 million hours paid work per week, compared to women’s 400 million hours. So, since men do 61% of the paid work, the fact that they are also contributing 42% of the unpaid care work seems pretty reasonable.

But even more surprising is unpaid caring for the over 65s. I recall Professor Christine Milligan, director of the Centre for Ageing Research, Faculty of Health and Medicine, Lancaster University, publishing an article in the Guardian in 2014 stating that men do more of the unpaid caring in the over 65 age range. I looked that one up again, too. Here is what it says,

Currently ONS figures estimate that 15% of men over 65 are acting as carers, compared to 13% of women in the same age group. There are also more men between the ages of 50-65 than women aged 25-49 performing caring roles.”

It is particularly noteworthy that men do more of the caring in the retired age range, in view of men’s shorter life expectancy,

To check these sources were not misleading, I looked up the ONS data itself. The most recent data on carers is still that dated May 2013. It confirms the above statements, from both sources. [To be more precise, the last statement should read “A greater percentage of men between the ages of 50-65 than women aged 25-49 perform caring roles”]. It also confirms that pre-retirement age men cannot be regarded as slackers when it comes to unpaid caring with this statistic,

In 2011 in England, 116,801 men and 81,812 women were in full-time employment while providing 50 hours or more unpaid care; in Wales the equivalent numbers were 9,320 and 5,068 respectively

I trust that establishes the true position on unpaid caring.

Since this has been an unusually brief post (for me), I also offer the following titbit, albeit something completely different…..


Unconscious Bias

Boys are stupid

On 17/5/17, Radio 4’s “All In The Mind” was on the subject of Unconscious Bias. (You may recall I prophesied we’d be hearing much more about “unconscious bias” over a year ago. Jordan Peterson has had some choice words to say about this particular misinterpretation of psychology research).

The programme was recorded in front of a live audience at the Royal Institute. The woman presenter introduced the panel of three women and one man. The theme throughout was women in physics. I’ll not dwell on it. You know exactly what to expect. It was the usual stuff. Am I accusing the BBC of unconscious bias in a programme on unconscious bias? No, of course not. I’m accusing them of absolutely conscious and deliberate bias in a programme on unconscious bias. But that’s not the tit-bit I promised. It’s this.

One of the women researchers asked the live audience to respond to two questions. You will have heard this before, and you may be surprised, as I was, that the researcher chose to run this experiment on ‘live’ radio. The questions were: what three adjectives immediately come to mind when I say “girl” – and ditto for “boy”. Anyone who has heard of this being done before will know what happens. This time was no exception. For “girl”, the researcher read out the top selected words in order, as follows,

strong, pretty, sweet, powerful, intelligent, smart, independent, clever, hard working

And for “boy” – amid laughter from the audience – she read out the top choices…

smelly, strong, annoying, dirty, ugly.

The researcher herself laughed, noting that she had done this many times and “smelly” was always a top choice for boys.

She then remarked, insouciantly, that the experiment proved how influenced we all are by stereotypes. The programme then continued its agenda to demonstrate how stereotyping harmed girls’ education in physics.

I know, I know. It makes one want to impact forehead hard and repeatedly on the nearest brick wall. They seemed completely oblivious to the fact that they had just demonstrated how our society has imposed gender stereotypes in which only glowingly positive adjectives may be attached to girls, whilst boys are represented as flat-out unpleasant. And they didn’t even notice. In a programme about unconscious bias.

And, as for “strong” being the top choice for “girl” – that couldn’t be an ideologically conditioned “choice”, by any chance?

[For what it’s worth, the words I came up with spontaneously were “privileged” for girls, and “bewildered” for boys].

8 thoughts on “Who Cares?

  1. Pingback: Unconscious Bias | The Illustrated Empathy Gap

  2. jb

    I suspect that the greater concern for women is innate . After all their survival is more important since they have the babies. What is worrying is how despite this many of them continue to claim victimhood and seem to genuinely believe it. Perhaps they are programmed to complain just to make sure that their safety and wellbeing are given preference

  3. clay

    As long as we men allow this insanity to continue it will do just that.

    “… qui tacet consentire videtur.” – (Latin: “he who is silent is taken to agree”)

  4. AJ

    The fundamental problem remains that women are intrinsically valued and men are not and that disadvantages to women are recognised and considered a problem to be solved and those to men are not. There is an element of a lack of consciousness in this although unconscious bias seems a strange way to express it. Disadvantage to men is in the main simply not perceived by the mass of people. In health, education, violence it is men who are disadvantaged but the perception is the opposite. If you are not aware of something you cannot be conscious of it. I do not think this can simply be put down to the bias of the media and the establishment. I think there is an innate bias within human psychology to recognise and react to the suffering of women more than men. In the main I do not believe the bias against men is deliberate in society as a whole but for all that it is profound and ubiquitous.

    The bias that is conscious and is therefore shocking is that of any academic or professional who is concerned with sex discrimination or bias. The evidence is overwhelming and any professional who looks at that evidence and does not recognise the disadvantage of men is dishonest at the very least to themselves.

    The programme on physics and girls was consciously biased because the reearchers if no one else must have been aware that in almost every subject except physics it is girls who do very well and boys that do not but that despite this there are a myriad of programmes to encourage girls education and essentially none to encourage boys.

    1. William Collins Post author

      Yes indeed – and the name for this bias in favour of females is gynocentrism – or, alternatively, if you look at the same phenomenon from the perspective of males, it is the empathy gap, the title of this blog.

  5. Patrick Rice

    I’ve no idea about others, but I chose to care for my wife alone in our own home until she passed away due to Alzheimer’s. The equipment I required in the final six years, like wheelchair and commode I purchased and passed on to others in need of them after she passed. The experience of following to my vows: “In sickness and health, till death us do part” I followed. Those years taught me the old saying is so true: “A woman’s work is never done.” The daily washing, ironing, cooking, cleaning’ in addition to feeding and washing my love, brought home to me the years my wife carried out those tasks whilst raising our children. She was 73 and I, 76 when she passed away. It will be ten years in Dec., since her passing. After she passed the stomach problem I complained about and was informed: it was irritable bowel syndrome. It turned out to be Stomach Cancer and required the complete stomach removed. Fortunately my beloved wife of 52 years did not have to witness my suffering.

  6. Groan

    As to the unconscious bias. It is incredibly irritating the way in which the “social construction” is not applied to the way boys and men are described, channelled, treated. This intellectual dishonesty from feminists is most revealing. For their own theory should lead them to challenge the stereotypes and social constructions for males. Yet almost uniformly they treat these “slugs and snails” versions as “natural” and intrinsic to males.
    Having spend some of the afternoon clearing some of our drains I can’t help but observe its mighty convenient to presume males are just naturally smelly and dirty.

  7. Groan

    A slight niggle. Though the proportion of male carers is higher, the shorter lifespan does mean there are fewer men in older age cohorts. However I’m so pleased you have highlighted the huge contribution of male carers. And the fact is that all our services are built around supporting female carers and largely ignoring male carers. Of course the other story is that much of the caring for “the elderly” is from the spouse or other “age peers”. This appears to have become more so as younger generations are working or moved away.
    There are of course a number of other factors that are “creeping in” as an older generation with stable relationships is dying out and we start to see the effects of longevity (both outliving partners by many years and being cared for by “children” who are themselves old) broken relationships (men and women single due to divorce failed cohabitation) fewer children anyway, outside some fecund immigrant and religious communities and just starting to hit the effects of the longer and no longer sexist retirement ages meaning “children” are busy working.
    Into this is a moribund social care industry still indeed ignorant of its own statistics and imagining carer = middle aged woman. And uncurious bias.


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