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Male Family Caregiver’s Well-being: Balancing Work and Long-Term Care in France and Japan

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CAREANDWORK (Male Family Caregiver’s Well-being: Balancing Work and Long-Term Care in France and Japan)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2020-08-31

Rapid demographic ageing in Europe, as highlighted in Horizon 2020 health priorities, makes the challenge of long-term care increasingly pressing. Despite substantial discussions on caregivers in policy making and academic research, a rapidly emerging new group of middle-aged male family caregivers, who care for their aged family members and often also work, are largely understudied and may potentially face the challenge of giving up their employment. Inadequate understanding of gendered caregivers jeopardises not only carers but also care receivers, other family members and society as a whole: better outcomes for the elderly are substantially dependent on the well-being of caregivers. For Europe it is relevant and timely to learn from ‘super-aged’ Japan about such gendered carers’ practices; yet, learnings need to be contextualised to reflect European societies, such as France’s highly developed family policies.

Hence, CAREANDWORK aimed to address the gap in understanding of gendered male family care practices to inform policy development. CAREANDWORK aims to address three objectives that involve a focus within each of Japan and France and a comparison across the countries. In focusing on each country, one domain focused on is middle-aged male carers’ family context. Specifically, how the family domain shapes what such men do themselves in providing care and how this depends on their being male, their gender, as care is often implicitly associated with female carers. A second objective is to consider such men’s work context, with an emphasis on the policies, of both government and employer organisations, that shape the choices such men face in potentially adapting their work to their care role. A third objective is to assess such issues in a comparative perspective, to contrast and learn from the diverse experiences in France and Japan. Throughout, the aim is to provide insights into the novel phenomena of middle-aged men’s involvement in care for their aged relatives.

CAREANDWORK addressed these objectives through in-depth fieldwork in Japan and France, comprising interviews with men involved care for their aged family members, complemented by an understanding of broader social, cultural, economic and political factors that shape public policies. Thus, a main contribution is to connect men’s social and work context and their family relations to an in-depth understanding of their care practices, so as to address an important aspect of societal ageing that is central to these men, their family life as well as to broader society.
The core activities of the project related to fieldwork, through in-depth interviews of male caregivers in Tokyo and Paris. This was complemented by analysis of institutional conditions, in particular in relation to gender, including interviews of key stakeholders. The understanding of each research site, from a view of men’s perspectives to broad social and policy conditions, formed the base for a comparative perspective. The research benefited from testing and refining findings and insights through interaction with scholars expert on each research site as well as scholars engaged more broadly on issues of ageing in society, enabled by CAREANDWORK comprising hosting at Sciences Po, visits to University of Tokyo, and secondment to The Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, University of Oxford.

CAREANDWORK addressed how and why gender affects male family caregivers choices of care practices, and how such men sustain their well-being while reconciling work and care for their parents. CAREANDWORK evidenced that men select care practices with priority given to familiar tasks deemed appropriately masculine. To perform care as they deem to be appropriate, such men approach care as they do their work: they ‘work-nise’ care. Such a gendered approach to care practices has important implications for addressing gender in public interventions, as often the implicit assumption is of female caregivers.

An important connection between the choices of such male caregivers and their broader social context are policies aimed at enabling work to be compatible with care provision. CAREANDWORK leveraged recent changes in Japan, in particular the government’s, Japanese Business Federation’s, and large member firms’ initiatives to roll-out family caregiving policy. The aims, approaches and use of such policies were juxtaposed to the perspectives of employed male family carers. CAREANDWORK provides ethnographic evidence portraying diverse ways in which men engaged with care for aged relatives, pointing to strongly held views of care provision being a private issue. CAREANDWORK finds a disjuncture between the government’s attempt to make family care provision a social issue through achieving broader participation of employed family members in care, and the perspectives of businesses, including tacit reluctance to transform working practices to accommodate care, and employees, who view care as a family issue. This results in employed men’s devotion to work competing with the notion that carers should be devoted to care provision. For some, devotion to family caregiving displaces devotion to work, leading to significant financial and health issues. Whereas in Japan, for such men care for aged parents is part of a reciprocal relationship in return for care they received as children, in France, in contrast, such men report a much less marked sense of equivalent reciprocity. Whereas they may feel responsibility for care for parents, this does not come with a sense of needing for themselves to be implicated in care provision. CAREANDWORK contributed a perspective on transfer of learning across countries through understanding how and why different aspects of care and work systems develop and interact, by addressing the interplay between broader social and cultural conditions, specific stakeholders characteristics, and individual perspectives.
A main contribution of CAREANDWORK is to address a distinct gap in understanding, as male carers are relatively neglected in academic and public policy discussions. While there is some research on aged men looking after their spouses, the gap addressed is on middle-aged male inter-generational carers. Such carers are often equated with female carers that, however, neither takes into consideration the gender of the carer nor the interaction with their family and work domains, which are central to understanding how such male family carers address the both care and work.

CAREANDWORK developed an innovative multidisciplinary approach to comparative understanding and policy development. CAREANDWORK enabled a blending of policies and ethnography in the research, which is distinctive in bridging between more sociological and more anthropological approaches. Further, as compared to the typical approach in anthropology focused on one location, the project compared two societies while remaining rooted in deep qualitative data. The interplay of contrasting perspectives from the two research sites provided a means to compare as well as to deepen understating of each research site.

Through dissemination of project findings to potential users, such as policy makers, academic and non-academic researchers, CAREANDWORK provides an understanding the important emergence of middle-aged male family carers, which contributes to address the increasingly significant issue for Europe of societal ageing.