The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

A Reciprocal Relation Between Caregiving and Labor Force Participation: A National Longitudinal Study

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 9:00 AM
Executive Center 4 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Yeonjung Lee, MSW, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Kevin H. Kim, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Background and Purpose:

In the U.S., the majority of caregiving for older adults has been provided informally, and more American families than ever before are becoming involved in providing care to family members.  Given this trend, family caregivers face difficult choices as they try to balance work and caregiving commitments.  Since most previous research used cross-sectional designs, the direction of the relationship between caregiving and working remains ambiguous.  It is unclear whether caregivers leave the labor force due to care demands, or whether unemployment predates the initiation of caregiving, and thus, unemployed individuals assume caregiving roles.  The purpose of this study is to investigate the reciprocal association between care and work by examining how family caregiving influences labor force participation, and vice versa.  This study tests the following hypotheses: 1) caregivers have lower probability of labor force participation than non-caregivers, 2) those in the labor force are less likely to assume caregiving than those not in the labor force.


This study used a nationally representative data from three biennial waves of the Health and Retirement Study (2006 – 2010).  Respondents were 51 or older at baseline who had at least one living parent or parent-in-law with a high likelihood of having to provide care (N= 3,534).  Caregiving was measured if respondents provided help with activities of daily living (1= yes; 0= no).  Employment status was defined if respondents were in the labor force (1= yes; 0= no).  Following demographic variables were adjusted in the model: baseline age, race, education level, marital status, health status, the number of siblings, and parents’ health.  A cross-lagged panel model of caregiving and labor force participation was tested using structural equation modeling for each gender separately.  The cross-lagged panel model can be used with multiple dependent variables measured repeatedly and thus, this design allows for the examination of both directions of potential “causality” between variables due to multiple time points. 


Female caregivers at Time 2 were less likely to be in the labor force at Time 3 than those who were not. However, their labor force participation did not decrease the likelihood of caregiving at subsequent time point.  On the other hand, males’ labor force participation at Time 1 decreased the likelihood of caregiving at Time 2. However, male caregivers were not less likely to be in labor force at subsequent time point than those who were not.

Conclusions and Implication:

Our findings suggest gender difference on the reciprocal relationship between caregiving and labor force participation.  When women assumed the role of caregivers, they stopped working and also, they assumed the care responsibility regardless of their employment status.  While, opposite effects were observed for men.  Family care responsibilities may be an important barrier to encourage women to stay in the labor force.  These findings emphasize the importance of supporting the family caregiver, especially women.  Increased availability of publicly supported home care systems and caregiving leave has most influenced flexibility in workplace and increased the possibility of remaining in the labor force.