Caregiving harming employment, careers, study shows

(Edmonton) Caring for an aging parent or a family member with a disability or chronic ailment is becoming a regular part of life for an increasing number of Canadians and it's affecting caregivers' own health, employment and finances, research reveals.

About 2.3 of the 3.8 million Canadians aged 45 and over who provide unpaid care to a family member or friend are employed, said Janet Fast, professor in the University of Alberta's Department of Human Ecology, who co-led the research team, along with Donna Lero of the University of Guelph.

"While caregiving is a positive experience for many, people often have to miss work or reduce work hours and forego job opportunities to provide care," she said. "This has economic costs for caregivers, their families and employers."

Employers bear the costs of caregiving through staff absenteeism, lost productivity, and recruitment and training of new personnel, said the researchers.

"It represents an enormous loss of productivity to employers and to the economy in general-the equivalent of 157,000 full-time employees annually," said Fast, who added that Canadians and policymakers need to better understand this phenomenon and its impact on paid employment.

The researchers analyzed Statistics Canada's 2007 General Social Survey-the most recent data available-to compile a snapshot of employment consequences of unpaid caregiving across the country. Among their findings:

• Of the 2.3 million employed Canadians aged 45 and older, 37 per cent of women and 28 per cent of men are unpaid caregivers, and 40 per cent care for two or more people.

• Employed caregivers spent on average the equivalent of one full workday per week providing direct care and support.

• Caregiving has a greater affect on women's employment, earnings and long-term economic security more for women than for men.

• Thirty-eight per cent of caregivers believe that using support systems such as flexible scheduling offered in some workplaces would harm their careers.

Fast says work-family conflict continues to be a serious problem in Canada and that the study findings have important implications for public policy and business practice.