Symposium 4- Negotiating care in the context of multiple commitments: Combining paid work and informal care across the life span

Presenters: Fiona Alpass (Convenor and Discussant), Mary Breheny, Rosie Gibson, Shanika Koreshi & Kate O’Loughlin (Discussant)

Many governments are focused on policies that reduce the need for residential care, such as ageing in place and community care policies for people with disabilities. Such policies reduce the expense of funding formal care. However, this brings an increased expectation that care will be provided informally. Informal family-based care has become an essential part of the health care system providing many benefits including improved patient outcomes, reduced re-hospitalisations and delayed residential care placements. Many people prefer to be supported informally and carers value the ability to care for people they are close to. Caring roles can extend across the life span.  Thus, many informal carers must combine care with work or study, and these experiences may differ depending on when in the life course they occur. The reconciliation of paid work and informal care is complex for many carers and can impact on their health, wellbeing and financial security.  

This proposed symposium includes contributions from major research studies from New Zealand and Australia.  The first paper (Alpass) analyses factors that enable older informal carers in New Zealand to return to or remain in paid employment. Using multiple waves of data from the longitudinal New Zealand Health, Work and Retirement (HWR) study we highlight predictors of 2-year employment outcomes among unemployed and employed carers in later life. The second paper (Breheny) presents findings from a longitudinal qualitative study which interviewed informal carers who were also employed about their experiences of negotiating work and care. The advantages and disadvantages of flexible work arrangements for supporting care are highlighted. The third paper (Koreshi) utilises HWR longitudinal data to examine how work status preferences of older adults among different age groups (55-59, 60-64 and 65+) influence the decision to take up caregiving responsibilities. Participants aged 55-59 years in involuntary part-time work were more likely to take up care at follow-up. The final paper (Gibson) examines the impact of combining caring with study or work on the sleep of young informal carers. Participants described how their sleep was often compromised due to competing responsibilities. They struggled to support family members as well as maintain school or work commitments.

Papers in this session contribute to the conference themes of boundaries and transitions. They focus on the limits and constraints of the work environment for carers navigating the work-care nexus at different life course stages and highlight the limitations of flexibility for genuinely enabling the integration of multiple roles. The discussants will contextualise the presentations within the broader context of work and care reconciliation and encourage discussion and debate. 

Fiona Alpass is a Professor of Psychology at Massey University, New Zealand. She co-leads the Health and Ageing Research team and is also co-PI of the longitudinal Health, Work and Retirement study, a population-level study which aims to identify the health, economic, and social factors underpinning successful ageing in New Zealand’s community-dwelling population. Mary Breheny is an Associate Professor in Health Psychology at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Mary’s research focuses on how inequalities over the life course accumulate and shape opportunities and experiences in later life. Rosie Gibson is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Massey University. Rosie’s research focuses on sleep across the lifespan with a particular focus on the sleep and wellbeing of family carers. Shanika Koreshi is a 3rd year doctoral student at the School of Psychology, Massey University. Her current research is focused on reconciling work and caregiving.