Supporting Family Caregivers Advances Equity and Scientific Innovation

Family caregiving (e.g., childcare, caring for an aging parent, etc.) is a universal experience—whether providing or receiving care, everyone at some point will be touched by caregiving. Despite this, caregiving is under-supported and stigmatized in the US and in academic STEMM. Without critical support, caregivers, most often women, face challenges and may leave STEMM altogether. Policies and practices to support family caregivers are urgently needed to advance inclusion and ensure continued competitiveness and innovation.

A lack of support for caregiving threatens equity in STEMM as caregivers, who are most often women, are pushed out. This also risks the continued innovation of STEMM in the US, as it produces greater stress and strain for the workforce and increases turnover. Supporting caregivers is both a way to promote inclusion in STEMM and a strategic labor force investment.


  • In 2022 40% of U.S. families included children

    In 2022, 40% of U.S. families lived with children.

    (U.S. Census Bureau, 2022)

  • In 2020, nearly 20% of all Americans served as caregivers for adults

    In 2020, nearly 20% of all Americans served as caregivers for adults.

    (AARP & National Alliance for Caregiving, 2020)

  • While caregiving cuts across race, class, and gender, the work of caregiving continues to fall disproportionately on women.

    While caregiving cuts across race, class, and gender, the work of caregiving continues to fall disproportionately on women.

    (Bianchi et al., 2006; Sayer, 2005; Wang & Bianchi, 2009; Lee & Tang, 2015)

  • Though evidence on race is more limited, women of color seem to bear a particularly heavy burden of caregiving.

    Though evidence on race is more limited, women of color seem to bear a particularly heavy burden of caregiving.

    (Kachchaf et al., 2015; Williams, 2014)


The report provides recommendations to universities, federal and private funders, and the federal government. The key recommendations are:

  • Colleges and Universities
    1. Colleges and universities should provide 12-weeks of paid caregiving leave for all employees as well as postdocs and graduate students receiving pay, despite the absence of a national policy. Colleges and universities should also provide leave for students that allows them to maintain their student status.
    2. Colleges and universities should create and expand opportunities for flexibility in location, time, and work intensity into their policies and structures.
    3. Colleges and universities should provide centralized resources to support basic caregiving needs.
    4. Colleges and universities should pilot innovative practices to support family caregivers.
  • Federal and Private Funders
    1. Federal and private funders should support flexibility in grant timelines and deadlines.
    2. Federal and private funders should prioritize and support innovative research on family caregiving.
  • Federal Government
    1. Congress should mandate 12-weeks paid, comprehensive caregiving leave.




Family caregiving is a complex topic and a complex experience. Caregiving is deeply needed for our society—we all require care at some point in our lives and many value being able to receive at least some of that care from close loved ones and relatives. As universal as caregiving is, there is still a lot that is misunderstood—about who caregivers are, what caregiving entails, what support exists, and what more is needed. In the course of this report, many of these misunderstandings became strongly apparent as did the need to highlight the complexities of family caregiving.

Defining Family Caregiving

Family caregiving cannot be defined in one way; it encompasses many different relationships, tasks, and levels of intensity and duration. Caregivers provide care to children, adults, immediate family, and extended kin. Caregivers support physical, mental, emotional, financial, transportation, and organizational needs which vary by individual and over time. Despite this diversity, caregiving is often narrowly defined, which may limit the types of policies and practices that support caregivers.

Childca r e E lde r ca r e/ O lde r A dult Ca r e S pousal Ca r e D epende n t A dult Ca r e Ex t ended F amil y Ca r e E nd o f Li f e Ca r e B e r e a v eme n t Ca r e Ca r egi v e r Ca r e INTENSIT Y DUR A TION N A TURE TYPO L O G Y o f CARE E ach type o f ca r egiving v aries ac r oss people and ov e r time b y: e.g. p h y sical health, me n tal health, financial, o r ganiz at ional

Trends in Caregiving Over Time

There have been significant shifts in caregiving over the past several decades. As the US population has aged, the country waged its longest war, and the COVID-19 pandemic affected millions, the population in need of care in the US has increased (Administration for Community Living, 2022; Bilmes, 2021; Boyd et al., 2022; Isasi et al., 2021). During these decades there has been an increase in the number of people who provide unpaid care (Kossek, 2006; AARP & National Alliance for Caregiving, 2020). An increase in unpaid caregiving is related to the increase in the number of people who need care as well as the increased cost of paid caregiving (Abelson & Rau, 2023; Administration for Community Living, 2022), labor shortages among paid caregivers (Super, 2002; Global Coalition on Aging & Home Instead, 2021), and increased recognition of what counts as caregiving (AARP & National Alliance for Caregiving, 2020). Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic had a unique impact because there was an abrupt increase in the intensity of caregiving when care centers and schools closed, and many people were sickened (Archer et al., 2021; Cohen et al., 2021).

Challenges Faced by Caregivers

For many, caregiving is an exceptionally rewarding and valuable experience. At the same time, research consistently shows that caregivers face many challenges, especially in settings where support for caregiving is limited. Caregivers face physical, emotional, and financial challenges, many of which were particularly challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic (Czeisler et al., 2021; Prados & Zamarro 2020; Ruppanner et al., 2021; Zamarro & Prados, 2021). The economic impacts of caregiving can be significant, such as reduced or lost earnings, compromised wage growth or retirement savings, and leaving the paid workforce entirely (Cortes & Pan, 2020; Weller & Tolson 2019; AARP & National Alliance for Caregiving, 2020).

Cultural Contexts and Ideal Worker Norms

Family caregivers need greater support, but many barriers remain. One of the biggest barriers in STEMM is current cultural expectations that STEMM professionals can devote their full time and attention to paid labor without any outside distractions—often described by the “ideal worker norm” (Blair-Loy, 2001; Kossek, Perrigino, et al., 2021; Williams, 1989; Kachchaf et al., 2015; Blair-Loy & Cech 2022). These norms developed during the industrial revolution, when work and home became separate spheres, and became further entrenched with the implementation of productivity expectations in factories and other industries (Davies & Frink 2014). Today, these norms produce stigma against people who use flexible arrangements to meet outside demands, which can result in discrimination and bias as well as prevent people from using existing policies and resources out of concern for their professional standing (Cech & Blair-Loy 2014; Cech 2022; Williams, Berdahl & Vandello 2016).


The tall pillars of the US Supreme Court building stock photo

Federal and State Policies

The US is the only OECD country that does not have national, paid caregiving leave. Still, there are many supports and protections for caregiving at the federal, state, and local levels to provide leave, protections against... discrimination, and accommodations. These policies, however, are disconnected and piecemeal, which can create confusion and lead to a lack of compliance.

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Policies of Funders and Accrediting Agencies

Federal and private funders play an important role both in providing direct support to caregivers and influencing university policies and accrediting institutions set standards... for certification that can be used to promote support for family caregivers. Funders for example have offered flexibility for grant recipients, direct support for costs associated with caregiving, and re-entrysupport. Some accrediting bodies have also adopted policies requiring institutions seeking accreditation to offer caregiving leave and other supports.

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College and University Policies

Colleges and universities can offer a wide array of policies to support family caregivers. Though some degree of consistency across institutions comes from legal requirements as well as the guidelines... of accrediting bodies, there is no single approach to supporting family caregivers across institutions. In general, however, institutional policies fall into one of four main categories: 1) policies providing caregiving leave, 2) policies providing accommodations and adjustments to regular responsibilities and timelines for caregivers, 3) policies providing direct care support, and 4) policies that aim to prevent or respond to discrimination or harassment against caregivers.

Quotes below come from interviews conducted with family caregivers in academic STEMM as part of the report.

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