Older carers struggled to balance work and care during pandemic

11 November 2022
Carers of older relatives were most vulnerable, new study reveals
Workers aged 45-54 with care responsibilities struggled during the first two years of COVID-19 in Australia, with knock on consequences beyond the pandemic, according to a new report published by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR).

Associate Professor Myra Hamilton

The report drew on a longitudinal study to explore the circumstances of older workers with care responsibilities between June 2020 and October 2021. It offers insights into how they balanced their family lives with paid work, and finds that women, carers of older relatives, and working carers aged 45-54 are the most vulnerable groups of carers.

Associate Professor Myra Hamilton, report co-author and CEPAR Principal Research Fellow at the University of Sydney Business School, says the COVID-19 pandemic brought disruptions to formal care services and family care provision.

“Many unpaid carers found themselves juggling additional care responsibilities with much less of the regular support from family, friends, schools, and formal care services,” said Associate Professor Hamilton.

Employer support not enough

The researchers found that while company support for flexibility generally increased during the pandemic, it mostly increased during lockdown periods and declined in between, and was not equally accessible to different groups of carers.

Men, people aged 65 and over, and people caring for young children, such as parents and grandparents, reported the greatest support for flexibility from their employers.

“While perceived company support appeared to improve throughout 2020-2021, access to flexibility was not enough to support people with care responsibilities to reconcile work and life, in the absence of, or with only limited access to, formal education and care services,” said Professor Marian Baird, report co-author and CEPAR Chief Investigator in the University of Sydney Business School.

Who fared better and worse?

“Results indicate that carers had more difficulty than non-carers in balancing work and family life and that women fared worse than men, with poorer work-life balance and higher work-life conflict,” said Professor Baird.

Younger mature carers – defined in the report as those between 45 and 54 years old – were also shown to have fared worse than older carers in reconciling work and family/care responsibilities.

Overall, this group reported lower levels of work-life balance and higher levels of work-life conflict than their older counterparts.

“Our data reveals that the differences might be explained by the fact that carers over the age of 65, although still active in the labour market, worked fewer hours than younger ones, resulting in less time pressure,” said Professor Baird.

While all groups of carers reported they struggled to reconcile work and family life, carers of older people reported the poorest work-life balance and felt least supported by their company.

What are the implications?

“The changes in work and life brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated work-life conflict through the increased reliance on unpaid carers to provide new and intensified forms of care, support and education,” said Associate Professor Hamilton.

The report reveals the most vulnerable groups of carers are women, younger mature carers, and respondents caring for older relatives.

All are groups that governments currently aim to keep active in the labour market in order to enhance economic growth and sustainability, yet are clearly at risk of the poor outcomes for work and wellbeing that arise from work-life conflict.
Associate Professor Myra Hamilton

“The struggles in balancing work and family life reported in this analysis highlight the importance of continuous access to flexibility provisions combined with care and support services in enabling people with unpaid care responsibilities to reconcile paid work with family life.

“These services and flexible work options must also be better tailored and adaptable to carers’ needs, which are shown to be linked to the gender, age of the care provider, and the care recipient group.

“Poor work-life balance and the associated outcomes during the pandemic are also likely to have knock-on consequences beyond the pandemic, as carers continue to grapple with the social, emotional and work-related effects.

“Investment in supporting the needs of those with care responsibilities is perhaps more important than ever.”

Read the report here.

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