Gender and family caregiving at the end-of-life in the context of old age: A systematic review

Palliat Med. 2016 Jul;30(7):616-24. doi: 10.1177/0269216315625857. Epub 2016 Jan 26.


Background: As societies age and governments attempt to manage within constrained health budgets by moving care into community settings, women will be called upon to provide more palliative care in old age. However, little is known about gendered disparities for caregivers of people over the age of 65 years.

Aim: To identify and synthesise the empirical literature between 1994 and 2014 that focusses on gender and family caregiving for people over the age of 65 years with a life-limiting illness.

Design: Systematic review of qualitative and quantitative studies conducted in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. Supplemental review using a novel feminist quality appraisal framework.

Data sources: Search of MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Sociological Abstracts and Gender Studies to find empirical studies on gender and family caregiving at end-of-life in the context of old age.

Results: Of 19 studies identified, 9 presented thorough gender analyses. Gender themes included why people care, how they care, and the consequences of providing care. Women caregivers experienced a greater degree of mental and physical strain than their male counterparts. This was linked to societal expectation that women should provide a greater degree of care at the end-of-life for family members.

Conclusion: Palliative family caregiving for older adults is gendered. Gender affects why people care and the consequences of providing care. Palliative care literature needs to incorporate a greater gender focus for future research and policy makers need to be aware of the gendered ramifications of providing more palliative care in the community.

Keywords: Palliative care; end-of-life care; family caregiving; gender; informal care; older adults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Caregivers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Palliative Care / psychology*
  • Palliative Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sex Factors
  • Terminal Care / psychology*
  • Terminal Care / statistics & numerical data*