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Women, as main caregivers, take a hit in retirement

Amy D'Aprix spent 10 years caring for her aging parents after her mother had a massive stroke. “I think this whole issue of caregiving needs to be built into thinking about retirement. It’s easier when you’ve got some plan or you’re aware that it could happen, rather than getting sideswiped by it,” she says.

chris bolin / The Globe and Mail

Mary Ann Jenkins is about five years from retirement, but slowing her work pace isn't an option. There are too many people depending on her.

The 56-year-old financial planner from Cranbrook, B.C., is a "sandwich boomer" - she's providing support for two children in their 20s and four parents in their 80s.

It's a position many Canadians, especially women, find themselves in as they near retirement, and it often means putting off saving for their own needs.

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Ms. Jenkins says she and her husband spend at least $500 a month to support their children through school. They also spend a couple of hours a week doing chores for their parents, and are anticipating "bigger shoes dropping," especially since her mother's heart attack in January.

"It's not that we're empty nesters, and now we can really put money away for ourselves," Ms. Jenkins says.

An Investors Group poll reveals that 10 per cent of baby boomers with children also provide some type of support to their aging parents. Of those providing financial support, they're spending nearly $500 a month on average, and a quarter of them are reducing their retirement savings to cover those costs.

The costs of caregiving are even greater for Canadian women. Statistics Canada data show that three-quarters of those providing care for seniors are women, making them more likely than men to quit their jobs or reduce their work hours, thus reducing their pension entitlements and the amount they can save for retirement. And since women, on average, live longer than men and are more likely to marry people who are older than they are, research shows they should actually be saving 20 to 25 per cent more for their retirement than men - a six-figure sum for the average middle-class worker.

Yet, according to a TD Waterhouse poll of female investors, a third of Canadian women are not currently contributing to registered retirement savings plans, citing a lack of extra money (68 per cent) as the top reason for not saving. Only 29 per cent said saving for retirement was their top priority.

Fourteen years ago, Amy D'Aprix put a promising career on the backburner when her mother, an energetic 69-year-old who had won several gold medals in race walking at the Senior Games, had a massive stroke and was left unable to walk or talk, except for a few words. Suddenly Dr. D'Aprix, a gerontological social worker, had to drive five hours to her parents' house each weekend to lend a hand.

"It greatly impacted everything in my life. It took a lot longer to get my doctorate done. I turned down a lot of work during that time because I knew this was a limited time period."

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Dr. D'Aprix, who spent a decade caring for both of her parents, also works as a retirement transition consultant. While she doesn't think women need a plan for "every awful thing" that could happen, she advises female clients to at least think about whether they are financially prepared and how it could affect their retirement plans.

"I think this whole issue of caregiving needs to be built into thinking about retirement. It's easier when you've got some plan or you're aware that it could happen, rather than getting sideswiped by it," Dr. D'Aprix says.

"Depending on whether people opt for home care or assisted living and how much care they need, they need to be aware that care can be several thousands of dollars a month," she adds.

Often, says Lee Anne Davies, head of retirement strategies at Royal Bank of Canada, women will already be behind in their savings after taking off time in the earlier stages of their careers or reducing their work hours (and prospects) to care for children.

"And then we see the other side of the life stage of a career: the caregiving again for a parent who may need some help. Traditionally, that goes back to the female, who may leave work or may cut back to part-time working for a period of time, which will jeopardize the amount of money available to them, and then they're not able to save," Ms. Davies says.

"This whole concept of caregiving, at both ends, it's very gender-biased and it really does change the access to money."

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Jane Olshewski, manager of financial life planning at Investors Group, says boomers risk facing a cash crunch at retirement if they're providing financial support for their children or parents - or both - when they should be saving for themselves. "Becoming a parent is a lifelong gift, but the payments are sometimes longer than anticipated."

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About the Author
Report on Business Community Editor

Dianne Nice is community editor for Report on Business and writes about social media. Previously, she was The Globe's online editor for Careers and Personal Finance and has written about these topics for Report on Business and Globe Investor. More

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