Balancing work and care linked to better emotional well-being for those caring for older adults

February 7, 2023

Contact: Jon Meerdink ([email protected])

ANN ARBOR — Caring for a loved one and managing a job is a significant challenge, but according to a new paper, balancing some care responsibilities with some paid work provides working caregivers with emotional benefits.

Sarah Patterson, a research investigator at the Institute for Social Research’s Survey Research Center, relayed these findings in a paper published this month by the Journal of Marriage and Family. Patterson and her co-authors analyzed time diary interviews from the National Study of Caregiving, in which caregivers reported all activities on the prior day and details about how they felt during randomly selected activities.

Drawing on a national study of family caregivers to older adults, Patterson found that those who split time between part-time care and part-time paid work reported levels of well-being similar to those who took the day off from both responsibilities.

Of note, part-time workers and those who did not work at all on the prior day reported similar levels of well-being. But those combining care responsibilities with full-time work on the prior day reported worse well-being, and some full-time workers had it worse than others. 

“Caregivers who worked a late shift, evening or overnight on the prior day, stand out from other working caregivers as experiencing more negative emotions,” said Patterson.

According to Patterson, the competing demands of full-time work and care responsibilities may add stress for family members and friends caring for older adults. This link between work-care balance and emotional well-being appears similar for men and women.

“Often there can be a lack of flexibility with full-time work. During the day, it’s harder to run errands or take someone to the doctor if you have to return to work,” she said. “Late-shift workers may find daytime caregiving responsibilities especially stressful.”

In contrast, caregivers who worked a limited number of hours seem to get an emotional payoff. Patterson explained, “In these cases work may offer a break – or respite – from caregiving responsibilities.”

Data for this study were collected in 2017, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Patterson noted that the pandemic helped bring work-life balance issues into focus and may have changed the

experiences of working caregivers.

The National Study of Caregiving is funded by the National Institute on Aging.


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