The spatiality of eldercare: towards a gendered geography of the aging family

Hallman, Bonnie C.
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University of Guelph

This thesis inserts an active consideration of gendered spatial behaviour and place context into the study of family caregiving to elderly relatives (eldercare). Gendered sensitivity to space (time-distance between elderly relative and caregiver) and place (rural/urban community) as the context of daily life differentially influences the caregiving behaviour of female and male eldercare providers, and their responses as they negotiate their work and family commitments. Family caregiving is embedded in a social and spatial context that colours not only what individuals do themselves, but also their use of resources within and outside of the family to meet the needs of their older relatives. The effects of caregiver gender, time-distance and elder's place context on eldercare are analyzed using case study data drawn from two inter-related surveys conducted in 1991 and 1995 by the Work and Eldercare Research Group of the Canadian Aging Research Network (CARNET). The case study has two components. The first is an analysis of aggregate patterns and relationships, and the second is a qualitative analysis of individual caregiver comments and selected caregiver profiles emphasizing the experience of caregiving. The results emphasize the highly gendered effects of time-distance, and to a lesser degree place context, on the provision of assistance to elderly relatives. A strong focus on the family as the first and preferred source of assistance among caregivers is evident, as is a strong sense of obligation, particularly among female caregivers, to provide care despite other commitments and distance barriers. Also of note is the clearly different circumstances of long-distance caregivers (those travelling 2 hours or more, one-way, to provide assistance). In general, female caregivers, but especially those at a distance, appear most apt to mobilize their social and spatial resources, while male caregivers are more likely to reduce the incidence and frequency of their involvement. Male long-distance caregivers, however, are more apt to overcome distance to provide assistance. The thesis concludes with a critical discussion of the social policy implications of the research findings and of the theoretical constructs from structuration theory and social feminism which frame the research.

gendered spatial behaviour, family caregiving, elderly relatives, eldercare, gendered sensitivity, space, time-distance, place, caregiving behaviour