(Reuters Health) - Informal care for older relatives continues to affect the labor market, and the effects remain gendered, according to a new study in Canada.
Women are 73 percent more likely to permanently leave jobs and five times more likely to work part-time due to caregiving, the study authors wrote in the Journals of Gerontology.
“There’s a huge societal expectation for women when it comes to who will take time off work,” said lead study author Peter Smith of the Institute for Work and Health in Toronto, Ontario.
“When thinking about the impacts of anything on the labor market, we need to understand if circumstances are the same for men and women, and if not, then why not?” Smith told Reuters Health in a phone interview.
Smith’s team analyzed nearly six million responses, collected between 1997-2015, to Statistics Canada’s monthly Labor Force Survey, which tracks trends in labor market participation and the hours worked across major industries.
In particular, they looked at respondents over age 40 who were caring for elderly relatives and were working or had worked during the past year. As part of the survey, respondents could indicate whether they’re currently not working due to caring for older relatives, as well as working part-time or taking time off work during the last week to care for relatives. Respondents also indicated the number of hours taken off work for informal eldercare.
In general, the prevalence of informal caregiving increased between 1997-2014.
The number of workers who reported a temporary absence from work for eldercare during the previous week increased from about 2,000 in 1997 to about 11,000 in 2012. With few exceptions, in each year, temporary absences were more than double for women.
“This is a problem that is not going away,” Smith said. “Along with the population aging, people are trying to live as long as possible at home and receive care there.”
The researchers estimated that the average number of work-hours lost per week rose from about 30,000 hours in 1997 to a peak of 174,000 hours in 2012 before dropping to about 164,000 hours in 2015 - or more than 8.5 million hours lost per year. The number of hours lost was two or three times larger among women.
Overall, only a small number of people left the labor market completely, or permanently worked part-time to care for relatives. But women were twice as likely to have left the labor market as men, and they were eight times more likely to work part-time due to care work.
“Women consistently not only have pay inequity but weaker labor force participation, which can explain poverty risks later in life, especially as women tend to live longer than men and have fewer resources over their lifetime,” said Ernest Gonzales of New York University in New York City. Gonzales, who wasn’t involved with this study, researches employment and caregiving.
Informal care has similar effects on the labor market in the U.S., he said, and the impact is particularly strong when analyzed by race and ethnicity. Certain groups experience earlier onset of disease and disability and often require longer and more intensive caregiving by family members, he added in a phone interview.
The American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare is developing paid family leave policies to help informal caregivers.
“Don’t sit on the sidelines,” Gonzales says. “Advocate and vote for policymakers who have a clear vision to improve health, equity and employment opportunities for women. Demand change and equity.”
SOURCE: bit.ly/2HjCvPk Journals of Gerontology: Series B, online April 8, 2019.