"It is normalizing that men take care of relatives, it is not just a women's thing"

Francisco José Navarro is a 72-year-old resident of Montferri who takes care of his 98-year-old mother. He was a teacher and since he retired, about 10 years ago, he has dedicated himself to taking care of her. "I'm single and we lived together at home, so I decided to take care of it myself," says Navarro. He is in charge of getting her up in the morning, giving her breakfast, lunch and dinner, dressing her, giving her medication, cleaning her, taking her out for a walk and, ultimately, assisting her in her needs.

Perhaps a few years ago it was not so common, but more and more men are dedicating themselves to caring for dependent people in a non-professional way. According to data from the National Institute of Statistics, this caregiver profile has practically doubled in Spain between 2008 and 2020, from 53,000 to 97,000. And it has grown more than the total number of caregivers –counting both sexes–, which has gone from 301,600 to 306,700 in those 12 years.

There will be more and more people, and also more men, who will have to dedicate themselves to the care of dependent people, both at the family and work level. According to Dolors Comas, professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Rovira i Virgili University, and principal investigator of the project Men Caregivers: challenges and opportunities to reduce gender inequalities and face new care needs, It will be so for several reasons. On the one hand, «we have few children, we have gone from the couple to the only child, and when these parents reach adulthood they only have one son or one daughter, thereby reducing large families and, with it, the possibility of having several sisters who can take care of this care for the parents”, says Comas. Likewise, another of the factors that causes there to be more and more male non-professional caregivers is that neurological diseases have a higher incidence in the female population, with which more men may be forced to care for their wives.

To care for someone dependent you have to be prepared, technically and psychologically

To all this, Comas emphasizes that society is changing and the woman, unlike before, is no longer the housewife. Now she is occupying jobs, with which she has less availability. "Before, for a man to be a caregiver was exceptional, but now it is becoming more normalized and it is shown that caring is not a thing for women and it can be learned," says Comas.

In addition to all these reasons that respond to a greater presence of male caregivers, Comas talks about the demographic issue. "Life expectancy is increasing more and more, the population is getting older and, therefore, even if we live more years in health, more and more people are likely to reach a situation of dependency," says Comas, who for this reason says that "more and more people will be needed to dedicate themselves to caring, both at work and in the family, and that is why men are and will be increasingly involved in these tasks." He adds to this that the cures will be increasingly intense and complex, since living longer is more likely to add several health problems instead of having a single pathology.

However, Navarro explains that “the end of the day comes and you are happy, but it is a sacrifice and I am exhausted. I take care of my mother because she is family and I love her, but she would not dedicate me to being a professional caregiver ». In the same way, he maintains that it is also hard on a psychological level: "You realize what life is, you see how the person you love is deteriorating." At first, only he took care of his mother, but for a few years he has been in charge for one week and his sister for another. "I'm getting older too," he recalls.

Not only retirees take care of relatives, there are those who leave work or reduce their hours

Navarro participates in a support group for non-professional caregivers that the Red Cross organizes in Valls. "This helps me because several people who care for family members get together and exchange experiences," says the man, who also assures that "we participate in courses and training to improve the way we care and treat and behave with people elderly".

Sara Suárez, founder and president of Taking care of you. Caregivers AssociationIt also ensures that more and more men are taking care of relatives. He speaks of the same reasons that Comas exposes, and comments on cases of men with whom the association works that show that this profile is not limited to retired men. «There is a young couple in which the man has stopped working to take care of his wife, who is in a situation of dependency; there is also a boy who takes care of his mother and his brother, who has a mental disorder; and another young man who has been caring for his grandmother with Alzheimer's since he was 17 years old », says Suárez.

Not yet in the workplace

This growth of non-professional male caregivers does not occur in the same way in the care work environment. According to data from the Active Population Survey (EPA), in the occupational sector of care services –residences, home care, etc.–, the percentage of men is only 10%. And it is much lower when it comes to employees directly in the homes to care, with only 1.7% of male caregivers.

This lower male presence in the professional field is also confirmed by Sofía Ramos, coordinator of the Servei d'Atenció a Domicili (SAD) of the Xarxa Santa Tecla. "There are more and more specific services in which you need to be very strong and in which we sometimes require male caregivers, but it continues to be an area in which women predominate," says Ramos, who also assures that "before we met much that the dependent person did not want a man to take care of her, and this is changing in recent years ». The service coordinator says that of the 190 workers, a dozen are men.

The URV researcher and professor, Dolors Comas, also comments that there was a significant number of men who started working as professional caregivers after the 2008 crisis, when many lost their jobs in construction and other sectors, but when they found another employment left. In fact, this is the case of José Núñez, a family worker for the SAD of the Xarxa Santa Tecla. He worked as a waiter, painter, builder and businessman, until the 2008 crisis when a business went wrong and he decided, at the age of 43, to take ESO and study to be a dependency care technician. He assures, however, that he had a great vocation for this job: "I have always liked older people, when my mother or one of her friends needed something, José was there," says the family worker, who took care of his mother for a few years, for which he had to leave the job he already had in a residence.

She remembers that for this, what she learned in her studies went very well, and she assures that training and knowledge are essential to carry out tasks of caring for people. "You have to be prepared, especially psychologically," says José. In this sense, the SAD of the Xarxa Santa Tecla also carries out training, both for care tasks and for procedures and requests.

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