Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

A Comparison of the Lifetime Economic Prospects of Women Informal Carers and Non-Carers, Australia, 2007

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

A Comparison of the Lifetime Economic Prospects of Women Informal Carers and Non-Carers, Australia, 2007

Article excerpt

Introduction

Informal care provided at home is the backbone of the disability and aged care system in Australia. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS 2009) estimated that, in 2003, 2.6 million persons aged 15 years and over provided care to a family member who needed assistance due to disability, long-term health condition, old-age or frailty. In 2005, informal carers were estimated to have provided a total of 2.5 billion hours of care, valued at between $4.9 billion and $30.5 billion, which works out to be between 0.6 and 3.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) (Access Economics 2005). With the ageing of the population, the need for informal care is likely to increase further (Percival & Kelly 2004) and hence have economic implications as well.

While it has been recognised that integrated and well-coordinated homebased care provided through family members is an efficient and cost-effective model of caring for the frail, elderly individuals or persons with a disability (Peters & Sellick 2006; Hollander et al. 2007), the economic implications of this model in Australia have yet to be fully examined. Recently, concerns have been raised from within the Government that the current system of heavy reliance on informal care is unsustainable and that a life course perspective is to be adopted to ensure wellbeing of people with a disability and their families (Disability Investment Group 2009). This view encourages taking a lifetime perspective while examining the economic, social and health implications of a caring role. With evidence suggesting that informal carers are experiencing significant financial and psychological burdens (Zapart et al. 2007; Edwards et al. 2008; Gray et al. 2008), there is a need to further investigate how these burdens would manifest over their lifetime. This paper aims to investigate the economic dimension of this important question.

Focusing on the economic aspects, this study examines the earnings prospects of women over their working life between 30 and 64 years of age, comparing women who are primary carers with women who are not carers. The analysis is limited to women as they are the majority of carers (ABS 2009) and women are more likely to be financially vulnerable than men because of poorer labour force participation and lower level of earnings over the lifetime (Cassells et al. 2009). When matched on the basis of their education, health and partnership status, carers who are financially most disadvantaged are identified. Implications of this income gap on saving towards retirement are also discussed. The findings of the study are expected to help identify the subgroups of carers who are financially disadvantaged, and for whom policies should be targeted to assist in the opportunity cost of caring.

An Overview of Previous Research

Informal carers, those who are primarily responsible for the care (in the home) of an elderly and frail person, or a person with a long-term health condition or a disability, tend to have reduced or forgone employment and hence incur substantial financial consequences. This has been reported internationally as well as in Australia (Stommel et al. 1994; Emanuel et al. 1999; Lukemeyer et al. 2000; Anderson 2004; Access Economics 2005). Previous research in Australia provides evidence of a substantial gap between women informal carers and other women with regard to educational, health and economic outcomes. Compared to women in general (or non-carers), women primary carets are found to have a lower level of educational qualifications, poorer health status, reduced workforce participation, and reduced earnings (Cummins et al. 2007; Edwards et al. 2008; Gray et al. 2008).

Women informal carers are themselves experiencing poor health (Zapart et al. 2007; Edwards et al. 2008). A greater proportion of carers than other women tend to have poorer self-assessed health (Nepal et al. 2008) and their poor health is largely attributed to their lower level of mental health (Zapart et al. …

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