Caring and employment
File this under things that will become more important as the population ages. I’ve been reading through a paper from the most recent issue of Feminist Economics about informal carers in the UK (gated). Carmichael et al define an informal carer as someone who “look[s] after relatives or friends who need extra support because of age, physical or learning disability, or illness.”
They come at the problem from quantitative and qualitative directions, with some predictable but important results:
Among the 182 people employed (either full- or part-time) prior to caring over half (ninety-four) were no longer in paid employment when they completed the questionnaire. Among the 131 people working in full-time employment prior to caring only thirty-six were still in full-time employment when they completed the questionnaire. It is also notable that among those still working, the majority, 73 percent, were employed in the public sector where employment practices are conceivably more flexible and by implication more carer friendly.
They go on to control for age, gender, human capital, and co-residency, and find statistically significant effects on rates of employment and part-time work.
Why is this a feminist issue? Well, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that 60 per cent of informal carers are women. They’re also likely to care for longer hours and longer periods of time than men.
It’s worth remembering that as social services are cut (like home care under Harris) it’s often women who pick up the slack, at the expense of their own aspirations and financial independence. And as the baby boom ages, we’re going to have to make some tough choices about where and how we care for the elderly. The carers surveyed had some ideas on what would help them stay in employment:
…eighty-four questionnaire respondents said that flexible working practices, including flexible hours, home working, part-time work, and short-term leave options, would help working carers. Many of these carers thought that employers needed more information about the needs of carers and that this would encourage them to make simple changes to their working practices that could improve carers’ lives.