"America has become a society in which everyone is expected to work—including women with young children. But many of society's institutions were designed during an era of male breadwinners and female homemakers. What is needed is a… reform of the institutions and policies that govern the workplace to ensure that women can participate fully in the economy and that men and women have the time and resources to invest in their children." (U.S. Department of Labor, 1993, from a study entitled "Workforce 2000," performed by the Hudson Institute for the U.S. Department of Labor.)

Workforce data confirm that the preceding quote could be extended to include time and resources to care for sick or elderly relatives. As more and more people live longer, many middle-aged people become "sandwiched" between two intense care demands—those of young children and those of elderly people. In the past, women not in the labor force often provided this care. As more and more women participate in the labor force, however, new options must be found.

The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that by the year 2000 more than 50 percent of all women will be in the workforce. The Department of Labor's 1990 figures showed that of women already in the workforce, more than 50 percent had children under six, and the Department of Labor figures show that about 32 percent of all employees, male and female, are parents. At the same time, a study by the Travelers Insurance Company found that 28 percent of its employees were providing care for a friend or relative aged 55 or older. Furthermore, the need for elder care will certainly increase, as the Health Care Financing Administration forecasts that the number of U.S. citizens aged 65 or older will increase from 34 million in 1995 to 60 million in 2025. Given the increasing demands for child and elder care placed on employees, the Department of Labor recommends that employers adopt policies that recognize and assist employees in meeting their family obligations.

The Department of Labor in its "Work and Family Resource Kit" suggests many options for employers and employees, including the provision of flextime and flexplace, long-term care insurance, child- and elder care centers, voluntary reduced time, and job sharing. Business has begun to respond to the needs of the workforce in this regard. A 1996 study by Hewitt Associates showed that between 1990 and 1995, the number of U.S. employers offering some form of child-care benefits rose from 64 to 85 percent, while the number of employers offering elder-care benefits rose from 12 to 23 percent during the same period. Increased experience of employers in the provision of child-care benefits has revealed that more-effective child-care programs, including provision of on-site or near-site child-care centers by companies, are expensive to initiate and maintain. The child-care benefits provided by the U.S. Marine Corps to its personnel provide a case in point. The Marine Corps overhauled its child-care facilities in 1992, and by 1997 their child-care programs and facilities were viewed as state-of-the-art. Corps personnel were thrilled with this new program, but its cost of operation, $6,800 per child per year, would be difficult for a corporation to maintain.

Employers who have set up day-care centers for children and who have had these centers operating for a long time are more numerous than employers who have set up care options for the elderly, a more recent phenomenon. Because day-care centers for children have been in place for some time, several groups have studied the impact of employer assistance in this area. One such study was published in 1984 by the National Employer Supported Child Care Project and reported in the Department of Labor's "Work and Family Resource Kit." This study reported the results of a review of 178 companies. Of those, 90 percent said that morale improved as a result of instituting a care center. Recruiting was affected positively in 85 percent of the companies, and that same percentage reported an increase in positive public relations.

The increasing participation by women in economic life has motivated corporations to provide child-care programs and facilities to their employees for some time, but the need for provision of elder care is less understood. A 1995 study concluded that employers will gradually be influenced to provide elder-care programs and facilities by demographic patterns, that is, as more workers and their parents become elderly, employees will demand and receive improved elder-care services.

The need for employers to work with employees in search of ways to deal with child care and elder care was formally recognized by the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which enables workers to take an unpaid leave of absence of up to 12 weeks to care for a new baby or a family member with a "serious health condition."

SEE ALSO : Family Leave

[ Joan Leotta

updated by Grant Eldridge ]


Auster, Bruce B. "The Clintons' Day Care Model: The Pentagon—The Military Way Emphasizes Standards and, Not Surprisingly, More Spending." U.S. News and World Report, 27 October 1997, 41.

Goodstein, Jerry. "Employer Involvement in Eldercare: An Organizational Adaptation Perspective." Academy of Management Journal 38, no. 6 (December 1995): 1657.

Gorshe, Nancy. "Employers Evolving Fresh Elder Care Approaches." National Underwriter Property and Casualty Risk and Benefits Management, 22 April 1996, 20.

Sprague, Peg. "Weighing Your Childcare Options." HR Focus 75, no. 4 (April 1998): 13.

U.S. Department of Labor. Office of the Secretary. Women's Bureau. "Work and Family Resource Kit." Washington: GPO, 1993.

"Worklife and Family Programs on the Rise." Journal of Accountancy 181, no. 5 (May 1996): 17.

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