The impact of intergenerational negotiations and power dynamics on the burden of care experienced by low- income grandmothers

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Kirsty Button
Older women are key financial and practical caregivers in contemporary low- income, multi-generational households. A large volume of research has shown how this burden of care has been shaped by social and economic conditions, the nature of state support and feelings of kin obligation. Less is known about how intra-household dynamics shape the distribution of responsibility for caregiving within households. This working paper discusses the findings of a qualitative study that explored the intra-household dynamics of care provision in fourteen low-income multi-generational households that were headed by older women in Khayelitsha. In discussing the caregiving experiences of the older women, it is argued that their burden of care was, in part, shaped by intergenerational negotiations over the provision of financial and practical care by younger household members. Despite their headship status, seniority, economic resources and the socialisation of younger kin to recognise reciprocal obligations of kin support, the older women had trouble negotiating for and obtaining assistance from their younger household members. In contrast, many of their adult children and teenage grandchildren seemed able to resist the claims made on their unpaid labour and financial resources; often leaving the older women with greater responsibility for ensuring the maintenance of their households. Furthermore, it is argued that these experiences reflect shifting positions of power within households that add to the vulnerabilities experienced by older women in their roles as caregivers.
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