Column

Women Will Bear the Burden of Getting Our Aging Parents Vaccinated

Just as we’ve been doing the bulk of the childcare

A woman pushes an elderly woman in a wheelchair across a sidewalk.
A woman pushes an elderly woman in a wheelchair across a sidewalk.
Photo: Patrick Pleul/picture alliance/Getty Images

When New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this week that the state would start making the Covid-19 vaccine available to people over 65 years old, my first reaction was relief. The news meant my parents, both of whom are in their mid-seventies, would finally get some sort of assurance in the near future. The second feeling I had was one of pure and overwhelming exhaustion, because I knew I was about to spend countless hours trying to help my mom and dad schedule those vaccination appointments.

I’m far from alone. American women, who overwhelmingly are tasked with caretaking for senior parents, now have another huge responsibility added to their already very full plate of child rearing and domestic work.

The pandemic over the past year has hit women in this country particularly hard: Women are losing their jobs at a much higher rate than their male counterparts — between August and September of 2020, nearly 1 million American women left the workforce. And those who are still working are likely to be working less; one study showed that mothers who remain in the labor force had reduced their working hours up to five times more than men. Lost jobs, lost hours, lost wages.

It’s a gap that experts predict could undo decades of economic progress. All because of the expectation that women should be the ones primarily responsible for care work — not just childcare, but eldercare as well.

Women in this country are more likely to leave the workforce to care for an elderly parent, and those who do provide care are less likely to be employed in general. And because so much of the Covid-19 vaccine scheduling is being handled online, it also means that it won’t just be women with “elderly” parents taking on this new workload.

I don’t consider my parents old at all, but I also know that if I’m having a hard time navigating the complicated and frequently broken websites that New York state has set up for its rollout plan, there is absolutely no way my parents are going to be able to do it. I feel certain that in the coming months, as more and more women try to navigate scheduling vaccines for or with their parents, we’re only going to see more women pushed to the brink and subsequently exiting the workforce. And if the vaccine ends up being approved for and administered to children, it’s going to get exponentially worse.

In a time like now — amid literal insurrection and thousands of pandemic deaths a day — it’s easy to lose sight of just how thinly stretched half the country’s population is. But if we don’t start to pay attention to the outsized burden on American women, employment and domestic work disparities that already feel untenable will turn into a full-on disaster.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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