How Caregiving for Parents Reduces Women’s Employment

Dec 11, 2020 / Amanda Chase, Horsesmouth Assistant Editor

We find that women who provide personal care for parents or parents-in-law tend to be from more advantaged sociodemographic groups, with larger differences by socioeconomic status than by race and ethnicity. Prior to initiating care, caregivers also have greater labor market attachment than non-caregivers. In contrast, although less likely to provide care, women from less advantaged groups tend to provide more time-intensive care when they do provide care, particularly in the extreme upper-end of the distribution of care hours. We find strong negative associations between caregiving and employment, hours, and earnings, both immediately and over a longer 10-year period. The relationship between care and work is similar across the sociodemographic groups that we examine.

Perhaps surprisingly to many readers, the results provide clear evidence that caregivers are not disproportionately drawn from those with weaker attachment to the labor market. Rather, those women who provide care to a parent or parent-in-law tend to have higher earnings, more labor market experience, more education, and greater financial resources than non-caregivers.

We find that one of the most powerful predictors of care is family composition. A larger number of living parents increases the risk of having to provide care, particularly if the parent or parent-in-law is unmarried and thus does not have a spouse who can provide care. Because more advantaged adults tend to live longer, middle-aged women with higher socioeconomic status are more likely than lower-SES women to have parents or parents-in-law who are still alive and thus at risk of needing care. In this sense, the gradient of eldercare—in which more advantaged women are at higher risk—runs in the opposite direction of most of the inequalities discussed in this book. Women with greater resources in terms of education, work experience, and family wealth may be in a better position to care for their parents or parents-in-law. It is also plausible that their jobs offer more benefits and flexibility that improve their availability to provide care.

Importantly, this chapter is among the first to show that caregiving appears to have longterm consequences on work. We find a strongly significant and negative association between ever providing care to a parent or parent-in-law and being employed at age 65. Moreover, the effects of caregiving on long-term employment appear to be remarkably consistent across groups defined by education, wealth, and race/ethnicity. Caregiving is associated with a reduced likelihood of working longer among women from all sociodemographic backgrounds.

You can find the full research paper here.


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