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Census Research on Well-Being of Eldercare Providers

Julie Iriondo

People often need help with daily tasks as they age.

Because the vast majority of older Americans live at home and a large number of older people have functional limitations or ill health, according to social survey data, more will rely on eldercare.

In fact, American Community Survey data show that less than 10 percent of older Americans with a disability live in nursing homes.

Married eldercare providers reported being happier and feeling more fulfilled than those who weren’t.

It is a complicated reality for an aging nation. People are living longer than ever before, thanks to modern medicine, technology and healthier lifestyles.

According to the Census Bureau’s 2017 National Population Projections, there will be 78 million people 65 years and older by 2035. By then, older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history.

“Older people living in a household who have physical, mental or cognitive functioning limitations are often cared for by unpaid, informal caregivers,” said Wan He, senior technical expert on aging research for the U.S. Census Bureau. “Most people rely on home eldercare and not nursing homes.”

More Older People Mean More Care

Eldercare involves helping older people with basic care activities, such as grooming, feeding, meal preparation, providing transportation to medical care appointments, or companionship.

“There is a need for more quality eldercare data,” said He. “The eldercare needs are growing as the nation’s older population increases and lower fertility has reduced the number of family members available to provide care. It’s important to understand the impact on those who shoulder the responsibility.”

Most of the nation’s 51 million eldercare providers are women (56.4 percent) or those ages 45 to 64 (43.8 percent), and there is limited data on how eldercare providers feel about their experiences.

The Census Bureau report, Subjective Well-Being of Eldercare Providers, examines how caregivers rate their emotions and feelings, life satisfaction, and sense of meaning and purpose.

Data come from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), the first federal continuous survey on time use in the United States based on a sample drawn from the Current Population Survey. Eldercare in ATUS is defined as providing unpaid care or assistance to someone age 65 and older who needs help because of an aging related condition.   

Findings showed differences by age, sex, race and ethnicity as well as factors such as marital status and living arrangements.

Among the findings, eldercare providers age 15 and older in general reported relatively high levels of positive well-being or low levels of negative well-being on the six measurements in the survey (happy, meaningful, sad, stressed, tired and in pain). Being tired was the most common response related to the poorest well-being.

Age and Gender Differences

Older eldercare providers were better able to cope with tiredness and stress while younger providers, ages 15 to 34, experienced less pain.

There are also gender differences in well-being. Women reported a higher level of positive feelings (happy and meaningful) than men. Men reported lower negative feelings (sadness, stress and tiredness) than women. There are few significant differences associated with race and ethnicity.

Living arrangements can make a difference. Married eldercare providers reported being happier and feeling more fulfilled than those who weren’t. The presence of children is a mixed bag of positive and negative feelings, depending on factors such as the age of the eldercare provider.  

“The eldercare providers in general fared less well in subjective well-being than those who did not provide eldercare,” said He. “But interestingly, the only indicator that providers reported a better state of mind was to feel what they were doing was meaningful, and this pattern was observed across age, sex, race and ethnicity.”

Concern for the well-being of providers is growing as the need for eldercare rises in an aging nation. Future research will evaluate feelings related to specific eldercare activities, whether it’s assisting Grandma with eating or taking Grandpa to a ball game.

Answers to these questions will be used to inform social and economic policies aimed at improving the quality of people’s lives.

“Much of the research has been devoted to health and well-being of care recipients but it’s equally important to understand the impact on the caregivers,” said He.

Julie Iriondo is a public affairs specialist at the U.S. Census Bureau.


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