Caregiving and Work: The Relationship between Labor Market Attachment and Parental Caregiving
Sean Fahle and Kathleen McGarry
There has been much concern over the provision of long-term care and the stresses it imposes on the family members who provide that care. However, despite the importance of this issue, it has been difficult to assess a causal relationship between caregiving and work. A chief concern is that those with weaker attachments to the labor force may be more willing to provide care—inducing a negative correlation when caregiving itself does not negatively affect employment. In this study we draw on 20 years of data from the Health and Retirement Study to examine anew the relationship between parental caregiving and work. We use two alternative identification strategies: First, we exploit the multiple observations per person existing in our data to estimate a fixed effects model for the relationship between caregiving and work. Second, we use unique data from the Social Security Administration on earnings histories to control for a woman’s labor market behavior long before the potential need to provide care. We find evidence that caregivers have at least a strong, and by some measures a stronger, relationship to the labor market than non-caregivers. Rather than labor force attachment, the provision of care appears to be driven primarily by parental need and by the availability of alternative caregivers, particularly sisters. However, we also find that caregiving has negative long-term effects on employment and earnings and can thus be detrimental to the financial well-being of caregivers.