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Work-Life Balance in the Second Half of Life

Caring for older parents does not lead to early exit from the labour market
Source: imtmphoto

Reconciling informal care and employment is an important challenge for individuals in modern societies, and it becomes particularly critical in the second half of their life. In a study carried out by Ariane Bertogg (University of Konstanz), Tiziana Nazio (WZB Berlin Social Science Center and University of Torino) and Susanne Strauß (University of Konstanz), the authors looked at how different forms of caregiving affect the labour market participation of Europeans aged between 50 and 68 years. They also explored how different policies with regard to old-age care and childcare may affect someone’s decision to remain in the labour market while providing informal care.

The study uses data from the Survey on Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). It uses information from six waves, collected between 2004 and 2017 in 20 European countries among 58,000 individuals. The authors distinguish between three types of informal care: upward care (provided to parents or parents-in-law),  lateral care (provided to spouses, siblings, friends, and neighbours) and downward care (looking after grandchildren).

Surprisingly, the study finds that providing regular care to parents or parents-in-law is not associated with a higher likelihood of exiting the labour market. Instead, lateral and downward caregiving seems to exert a negative influence on labour market participation. With regard to downward care, grandparents who regularly look after their grandchildren are more likely to leave the labour market than those who do not (or only sporadically) care, regardless of gender.

The types of policies in place with regard to caregiving also matter. Bertogg, Nazio and Strauß used two different indicators to look at policy effects: 1) service- and cash benefit- oriented old-age care policies in Europe, and 2) how developed the childcare infrastructure is in the country. Their empirical analyses show a higher likelihood of leaving the labour market in contexts with larger cash benefits for old-age care, but that applies to both caregivers and non-caregivers.

In terms of childcare infrastructure, they found that well-developed childcare services are linked to a lower likelihood of grandmothers exiting the labour market. However, the authors found that grandmothers who regularly look after their grandchildren are actually more likely to leave the labour market when a well-developed childcare infrastructure is available compared to when formal childcare is less available. This may be explained by the fact that regular childcare provided by grandmothers is rare in such contexts. If grandmothers chose to care for their grandchildren, this may be because grandmothers want to do so, or they are able to retire early due to pension eligibility.


This study has been financed by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Marie Curie Fellowships (grant no. 749443 to Tiziana Nazio) as well as by the German Research Foundation (DFG) (grant no. STR1322/2-2 to Susanne Strauss).

Author(s) of the original publication: 
Ariane Bertogg, Tiziana Nazio and Susanne Strauss