Lost Wages & Reduced Earning: The Future Costs of Caregiving

As the population of older adults with functional limitations grows, the number of family caregivers is expected to increase as well. A recent study explores the future costs of unpaid family care.

The study used data on family caregivers from the 2011 and 2015 waves of the National Study of Caregiving, a supplement to the National Health and Aging Trends Study. Participants were 2,385 caregivers age 20 to 64 who provided personal care, mobility, or household activity assistance to National Health and Aging Trends study participants. The caregivers were compared to 7,020 similar non-caregivers who participated in the 2013 wave of another study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics.

In order to estimate future demographic, disability, labor force, and employment characteristics, the author used a model developed by the Urban Institute, Dynamic Simulation of Income Model to simulate the circumstances of individuals as they age. The researcher assumed that in the future, unmet care needs, preferences for informal caregiving, and family wage costs would remain the same.

The study estimated that in 2013, more than 6% of adults age 20 to 64 were providing care for a family member. On average, the caregivers were 9% less likely to work and worked 2.1 hours fewer per week than non-caregivers. Because the older adult population is growing faster than the younger adult population, by 2050, more than 10% of persons age 20 to 64 are expected to be caregivers. The work-related opportunity costs of this—in other words, the lost income from paid work had these individuals not been caregiving—is estimated to grow from $67 billion in 2013 to $122 to $144 billion, unadjusted for inflation. Of note, in 2050, caregivers would tend to be more highly educated, resulting in higher earning potential.

Although this research relies on assumptions and estimates, the findings nonetheless point to high future costs of family caregiving. The researcher noted that lost caregiver income could lead to a decreased tax base, along with an increased need for safety net programs and human services. The study results may help policymakers anticipate support needs for future family caregivers.


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Mudrazija S. Work-related opportunity costs of providing unpaid family care in 2013 and 2050. Health Affairs (2019); 38(6):1003-10.



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