Project 3

Long-term employment consequences of informal caregiving: a life-course perspective


To describe and explain the long-term employment consequences of informal caregiving for caregivers in different life stages

Theoretical background

Responding to societal challenges, such as the rising care needs of our ageing population, the Dutch government increasingly emphasizes informal care, which is care provided by relatives, friends, or neighbours to people in need due to health problems. It includes domestic help, personal and nursing care, emotional support, supervision, and help with household administration, shopping, and visiting doctors and family. An important societal question is whether the increased demand for informal care is sustainable and does not conflict with the greater demand for labour. For that, we need to understand the full impact – which includes long-term effects – of informal caregiving on caregivers’ employment careers.

Research so far has not reached consensus about the impact of informal caregiving on employment outcomes, and long-term employment consequences have been largely overlooked. Role strain theory predicts that the combination of informal caregiving with paid employment produces time conflict and strain. Potentially, informal caregivers reduce their paid employment to accommodate their informal caregiving role. Role enhancement theory, on the other hand, posits that combining roles is beneficial, because skills developed in one role may enhance performance in another, or because one role can provide an escape from strain in another. Because of the cumulative nature of employment careers, the impact of informal caregiving on employment could have long-term consequences, even long after caregiving ends. To fill the above-mentioned gaps in the literature, the first research question examines to what extent informal caregiving has long-term consequences for the employment career of the informal caregiver.

One can argue that the increasing emphasis on informal care will lead to greater variety in the timing of caregiving over the life-course. Current literature does not reveal whether the employment consequences of informal caregiving vary by the life-stage in which the caregiver provides care. Accumulation predicts that caregiving’s effects on employment (both negative effects of role conflict and positive effects of role enhancement) are strongest if caregiving occurs in early career stages. In addition, it can be argued that role conflict is greatest for caregivers in the young-family stage, as they bear a “triple burden”: employment, informal care, and care for young children. At later life stages, role conflict emerging from informal caregiving can enhance early retirement decisions. The second research question therefore addresses whether the long-term employment outcomes of informal caregiving depend on the caregiver’s life stage.

Research design

For this project, unique retrospective data will be collected within the Family Survey Dutch Population. This implies that complete informal caregiving careers can be reconstructed for a maximum of 50 years. Its effects on employment outcomes later in life (both in terms of labour market participation and success) can be assessed by means of event history models. The variety within the recorded informal caregiving careers allows for comparing life stages of the caregiver.

  • Henz, U. (2004). The effects of informal care on paid-work participation in Great Britain: A lifecourse perspective. Ageing and Society, 24(6): 851 880.
  • Lee, Y. and F. Tang (2015). More caregiving, less working: Caregiving roles and gender. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 34(4): 465-483.
Project initiators

Ellen Verbakel (RU), Gerbert Kraaykamp (RU), Tanja van der Lippe (UU)