Time Poverty: The Working Daughter’s Struggle

timepovertyIn her 2016 annual letter, co-written with her husband Bill, philanthropist Melinda Gates talks about “time poverty,” the absence of a critical resource needed to realize your potential. This time deficit stems from unpaid work that Gates defines as, “cooking, cleaning, and caring for children and the elderly,” and she writes, “it’s overwhelmingly women who are expected to do it, for free, whether they want to or not.” From the invisible tasks I wrote about in Mogul, Mom & Maid that working mothers do every day, to the caregiving tasks working daughters do every week, women’s unpaid work keeps society going. This is the working daughter’s struggle.

On average, a woman who cares for an aging relative and has children spends 2.3 hours per day on eldercare; a caregiver without children spends 3.4 hours. She spends 2.2 hours on household activities, and 2 hours caring for kids. If she works full time for pay that takes up an average of 8.9 hours a day1.

Of course, time poverty shows up in different ways in different countries. As Gates writes, “Girls in poorer countries might say they’d use extra time to do their homework. Housework comes first, so girls often fall behind in school…Mothers might say they’d go to the doctor. In poor countries, moms are usually responsible for their kids’ health. But breastfeeding and traveling to the clinic take time, and research shows that health care is one of the first tradeoffs women make when they’re too busy.”

For American women caring for aging parents, time poverty may not seem as extreme as it does in other countries, but the results are still damaging. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, more than half of all caregivers say they do not have time to take care of themselves and just under half said they are too tired to do so. Seventy percent of unpaid caregivers suffer work-related difficulties as a result of their caregiving roles. They may change jobs, take time off, or quit altogether. A study from MetLife and the National Alliance for Caregiving calculated women lose an average $324,044 in wages due to caregiving. The unrecognized, unpaid work of caring puts female caregivers in particular at risk when it comes to their personal and financial health. As Gates says, “Women who don’t have enough time can’t invest in their future.”

Time poverty is not an individual issue; it is a societal issue. “Economists call it opportunity cost: the other things women could be doing if they didn’t spend so much time on mundane tasks,” writes Gates. “It’s obvious that many women would spend more time doing paid work, starting businesses, or otherwise contributing to the economic well-being of societies around the world. The fact that they can’t holds their families and communities back.”

Gates says we can address time poverty, by taking a “Recognize, Reduce, and Redistribute” approach. She writes, “Recognize that unpaid work is still work. Reduce the amount of time and energy it takes. And Redistribute it more evenly between women and men.”

If you are a working daughter, here is what that can look like:

Recognize: We must elevate and amplify the conversations around eldercare. We hear about the challenges working mothers face. We must add working daughters, and sons, to the mix. We start by creating communities and platforms where we talk to each other. We continue by advocating for policies like paid leave that allow us to better balance career and caregiving. We vote for candidates who include the needs of caregivers in their platforms.

Reduce: We need more innovation around caregiving. We can’t continue to rely on the dutiful daughter to care for her parents. The AARP predicts that by 2030 the United States will need between 5.7 and 6.6 million caregivers to support the sick and aging. We need to share best practices among ourselves. We need more funding directed toward startups that are addressing the needs of the elderly and their caregivers. We need to challenge the healthcare system to adapt their practices to accommodate working caregivers.

Redistribute: We need to advocate for professional caregivers – to get them fair wages and benefits and training. We can’t redistribute the work if we don’t have qualified professional caregivers to rely on. We need to learn to negotiate with our siblings and our spouses so that we can distribute the personal aspects of caregiver among our family members, or at least shed some of our other invisible tasks to free up some time and headspace. We need to get a handle on our caregiver guilt; because guilt tells us we need to do more and that we have more power than we actually do.

Closing the time gap isn’t just about having more “me” time – although there is nothing wrong with that. It’s about managing your mental, physical, and fiscal health. It’s about recognizing the work you do is valuable. It’s about creating a sustainable life as a working daughter so you can care for and support your family, your community, and, yourself.


Working Daughter Facebook Group, a group for women balancing caring for an aging parent with their career and the rest of their life. The group offers community, support, and encouragement.

Daughterhood Circles, small groups that get together regularly to hang out, relax and help each other navigate caring for aging parents.

Family Caregiver Alliance, a list of state by state legislation affecting caregivers

Next Avenue, complete coverage of Election 2016 and the issues related to aging

Aging 2.0, a global innovation platform for aging and senior care

Schwartz Center for Compassionate Care, promotes compassionate care fort patients and their caregivers

National Domestic Worker’s Alliance, advocates for domestic workers including caregivers

Care Academy, helps in-home caregivers and parents/families learn important care skills.

Third Path Institute, assists individuals, families and organizations in finding new ways to redesign work to create time for family, community and other life priorities

1American Time Use Survey















2 comments on “Time Poverty: The Working Daughter’s Struggle”

  1. Rena McDaniel Reply

    Terrific piece Liz! I didn’t know you had a Facebook group! I requested to join!

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