Pathways into Care: The Family Life and Work Careers of Informal Caregivers in Europe

Dimitri Mortelmans, University of Antwerp
Allison Geerts, University of Antwerp

Socio-demographic evolutions, such as below replacement fertility, increased longevity, and changing norms of filial responsibility have taken place in Western countries in the past 50 years that impact the potential for and provision of informal care (McNamee & Stearns, 2003; Gans & Silverstein, 2006). This is expected to result in a shrinking pool of potential caregivers, and a growing number of people and number of years that the elderly are in need of care. With these evolutions in mind, there has been an increased interest in charting the

profiles of informal caregivers. Research has found that being an informal caregiver is to some extent socially determined, as factors such as gender and employment status play a role (e.g. Leopold & Raab, 2013). This study considers to what extent long term developments across the family life and work career determine whether someone is an informal caregiver at older age in Europe. We draw from three waves of the Survey of Health Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) to study the family life and work trajectories of caregivers in 13 European countries. Preliminary results focus on the family life courses of caregivers. After identifying three distinct clusters in the data, we found that individuals with more unconventional family life courses were less likely to be caregivers at later age. Subsequent analyses indicated that this was true for men but not for women.


Families, especially spouses and adult children, remain the main care providers for the elderly (Vlachantoni, Evandrou, &Falkingham, 2015). Socio-demographic evolutions have taken place in Western countries in that impact the potential for and provision of informal care. Below replacement fertility in combination with increased longevity affect population age structures across Europe (McNamee & Stearns, 2003). This is expected to result in a shrinking pool of potential caregivers and a growing number of years that elderly family members are in need of care.

With these evolutions in mind, there has been an increased interest in charting the profiles of informal caregivers. Research has found that being a caregiver is to some extent socially determined. Women are more likely to be caregivers than men (e.g. Leopold & Raab, 2013). Higher involvement in the labor market, decreases the chances of becoming a caregiver, while closer proximity to and increased contact with the person needing care, increases the chances of becoming a caregiver (Brandt, Haberkern & Szydlik, 2009; Pillemer & Suitor, 2013). The literature has been focused on the situation in which someone finds themselves when the decision to become a caregiver presents itself. Few studies have investigated how decisions in earlier life or developments across the life course affect the chances of someone becoming a caregiver.

This study addresses this lacuna in the literature by exploring the family life and work careers of informal caregivers in Europe. Our central research question is: Are the family life trajectories of informal caregivers in Europe different to those of their non-caregiver peers?

We draw from the Survey of Health Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) to study the life trajectories of caregivers in 13 European countries. We use information of the first and second wave of SHARE to identify caregivers and use the third wave of SHARE (SHARELIFE) to construct the life courses of caregivers. The family life trajectories and work careers are constructed using multichannel sequence analysis (Gauthier et al., 2010).

Preliminary results focus on the family life courses of caregivers. We took into consideration age of moving out of the parental home, moving in/out with a partner, and childbearing. Three distinct clusters were identified in the data. In the first cluster those with traditional family life trajectories can be found, while a large proportion of childless couples characterizes the second cluster. In the third cluster we find individuals with more unconventional life courses, e.g. single mothers, those with multiple, subsequent cohabitational relationships, the long term single, and those who continue to live in the parental home at older ages.

We used membership to these clusters to perform a χ2-test to see whether there is a significant bivariate relationship between membership to a cluster and being an informal caregiver. We also performed a logistic regression to ascertain if there is a relationship between cluster membership and being a caregiver when controlling for country context and socio-demographic characteristics. We controlled for gender, age, age squared, current job status, number of female siblings, time pressure, and the health status of older family members (measured as the health status of either the mother or the father).

The χ2-test reveals that on the bivariate level there is a significant relationship between informal caregiving and cluster membership, however this is context dependent.The results from the logistic regression indicate that membership to the unconventional family life cluster significantly decreases the odds of being a caregiver compared to membership to the traditional family life cluster. Subsequent analyses revealed this to be the case for men but not for women.

References

Brandt, M., Haberkern, K., & Szydlik, M. (2009). Intergenerational help and care in Europe. European Sociological Review, 25(5), 585-601.

Gauthier, J. A., Widmer, E. D., Bucher, P., & Notredame, C. (2010). Multichannel sequence analysis applied to social science data. Sociological methodology, 40(1), 1-38.

Hank, K. (2007). Proximity and contacts between older parents and their children: A European comparison. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69(1), 157-173.

Leopold, T., & Raab, M. (2013). The temporal structure of intergenerational exchange: A within family analysis of parent–child reciprocity. Journal of aging studies, 27(3), 252-263.

McNamee, P., & Stearns, S.C. (2003). Ageing, disability and long-term care expenditures. Advances in Health Economics. 167-185.

Pillemer, K., & Suitor, J. J. (2013). Who provides care? A prospective study of caregiving among adult siblings. The Gerontologist, 54(4), 589-598.

Spitze, G., & Logan, J. (1990). Sons, daughters, and intergenerational social support. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 420-430.

Vlachantoni, A., Shaw, R. J., Evandrou, M., & Falkingham, J. (2015). The determinants of receiving social care in later life in England. Ageing & Society, 35(2), 321-345.

Presented in Session 1232: Posters