Caregiving’s Toll on Work Happens Quickly
Caregiving often wins out in the struggle between work and fulfilling one’s obligation to a family member or friend who needs help.
Researchers have documented the phenomenon of workers being forced to eventually leave their jobs so they can devote more time to the person in their care. But the impact on the work lives of the people who are new to their caregiving duties is often dramatic and happens very quickly, a new study finds.
Employment levels for workers who become caregivers declined by 6 percent within a year after they started, and most of the drop occurred because they left the labor force entirely, according to the analysis linking Census Bureau surveys on informal care with the Social Security Administration’s employment records for working-age adults.
The decline in employment may occur as early as four months after caregiving starts, based on a second analysis using only the Census data.
Caregivers who decide to stop working are also more likely to go on federal disability – either right away or years later. Many of the people receiving the benefits are older people who, despite their disabilities, had persisted in their jobs. Once they were needed by a family member, they may have decided to apply for disability to offset some of the loss of income from working.
Indeed, the largest employment declines were experienced by people over age 62, who often have an elderly parent or spouse in need of care – and sometimes both. For many of them, leaving a job coincided with claiming their Social Security benefits in an indication that caregiving is often pushing them to retire. Workers between 45 and 61 saw a smaller decline in employment after becoming caregivers.
Men’s and women’s paths from worker to caregiver are different, however. Women report small declines in their employment levels, and they return to the labor force relatively quickly. The impact on men is more dramatic and long-lasting.
One reason is that men and women fall into the role of caregiver for different reasons. Men may do so after leaving or losing a job, while women may be responding to a need, regardless of their employment situation. Women also seem to incorporate caregiving more seamlessly into their lives and have a stricter definition of what they consider to be full caregiving responsibilities.
Caregiving, the researchers conclude, has “adverse employment effects [that] are detectable from the very start of the caregiving spell and have a dramatic trajectory.”
To read this study, authored by Nicole Maestas, Matt Messel, and Yulya Truskinovsky, see “Caregiving and Labor Force Participation: New Evidence from the Survey of Income and Program Participation.”
The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.