Home and Community Care Digest

Home and Community Care Digest 7(4) November -0001

From One Job to Another: Being Employed Does Not Decrease the Likelihood of Becoming an Unpaid Caregiver for Women in their 50s


To better understand whether employment status has an effect on transition into informal caregiving, this study examined the order of events leading to informal caregiving and changes in labour force participation of middle-aged Australian women. The findings indicate that taking up caring was not associated with prior employment status, but an increase in hours spent providing unpaid care was associated with a reduction in paid employment. Since women who are employed are equally likely to become informal caregivers as women who are unemployed, governing agencies should create policies to increase flexibility in working arrangements.
Background: To understand whether employment status has an effect on transition to informal caregiving, the authors examined the order of events leading to informal caregiving and changes in labour force participation, in middle-aged Australian women. Caregiving has traditionally been a responsibility carried out by women, who were the primary homemakers. However, with increasing labour force participation, many women are juggling their careers and caregiving roles at the same time, and suffer from poor physical and mental health as a result. According to past studies, the proportion of women engaged in caregiving is reported to be highest for women in their 50s. At this age, while some women have already left the work force, many are still working full time. Hence, the authors suggest that we may need to make clear the distinction between caregiving that commenced independent of employment opportunities and caregiving that commenced in the absence of employment opportunities.

Methods: The study samples were 9,857 Australian women aged between 45 to 50 years old, who completed surveys on caring and employment in 2001 and 2004. Caring was defined as providing care for an ill, frail or disabled person at least 7-hours per week, and full-time employment was defined as working over 35-hours per week. Health-related quality of life was measured through sub-scales of the SF-36.

Findings: Between 2001 and 2004, the proportion of women who spent at least 7-hours per week caring for someone increased from 12% to 14%, while the proportion of those that spent over 14-hours per week caring for someone (high-level care) increased from 5% to 6%. Paid employment decreased from 67% in 2001 to 62% in 2004, and full-time employment decreased by 5% (from 38%). The analyses indicated that taking up caring was not significantly associated with employment status prior to caregiving. Women who took up caring had slightly lower health-related quality of life component scores and experienced poorer mental health and more bodily pain. As well, for women who took up caring, hours spent in paid employment was negatively associated with hours spent caring.

Conclusions: There was a general increase in informal caregiving and a decrease in labour force participation among middle-aged Australian women between 2001 and 2004. For women in their 50s, transition into the caregiving role was not significantly associated with prior employment status or the average time spent in paid employment; that is, employed women were equally likely to engage in informal caregiving as unemployed women. Therefore, to support continuing labour force participation for women taking up care, employers and policy-makers should create policies for increasing flexibility in working arrangements, such that women who transit into and out of their caregiving roles can be guaranteed job security and experience less burden resulting from providing informal care. The authors also suggest that, given the temporary nature of caring, policies should be designed to mediate the transition process, such as supports for re-employment following an episode of caregiving, rather than the provision of long-term support.


Berecki-Gisolf J, Lucke J, Hockey R, Dobson A. Transition into informal caregiving and out of paid employment of women in their 50s. Social Science & Medicine. 2008; 67: 122-127.


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