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March 17, 2022

Research Recap: Gendered Impacts of Supports for Employed Caregivers

Gaby Novoa summarizes new research on the impact of workplace policies on employed caregivers.

STUDY: Li, L., Lee, Y., & Lai, D. W. L. (2022, February 7). Mental health of employed family caregivers in Canada: A gender-based analysis on the role of workplace support. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development. DOI: 10.1177/00914150221077948

March 17, 2022

Gaby Novoa

In a recent study, Lun Li, Yeonjung Lee, and Daniel W. L. Lai provide a gender-based analysis of the impact of workplace policies and programs aimed at supporting employed caregivers. The authors explore gender differences in the relationship between employment adjustment and mental health among working caregivers, focusing on the effectiveness of workplace supports. Caregivers are those who provide care for older, sometimes dependent, adults.

The study analyzes national data from the 2012 General Social Survey, with a sample of 2,426 caregivers who are employed. Mental health was self-rated along a scale of 1 to 5, with options ranging from excellent to poor. Participants were asked whether they found caregiving stressful according to nine items, e.g., managing their own emotions, managing family conflict about caregiving, finding services for the care receiver, and balancing caregiving and other responsibilities. The researchers also considered employment adjustment, family-to-work role conflict, workplace support, and gender.

Women who are both employees and family caregivers report worse mental health than men

The findings indicate that women experience worse mental health outcomes than men when they require employment adjustment to accommodate their caregiving responsibilities. Adjustments refer to taking time off, turning down job offers or promotions, reducing hours, taking less demanding positions, or quitting. Compared with men, women reported worse self-rated mental health, more hours dedicated to caregiving, more employment adjustments, and higher levels of conflict between their family and work roles.

While family caregiving responsibilities can indeed impact all employees, the authors underline that women face greater pressures to balance both family and work responsibilities because of gender expectations. Women take more responsibility for domestic work and provide care for family members or friends, even if they have taken on more active social and political roles. They are more likely to experience imbalance between their dual roles than men, and so are more likely to adjust their careers to meet their caregiving duties.

Data suggests women typically benefit less than men from workplace supports

Common workplace supports offered in Canada include flexible work schedules, part-time employment, remote work, and extended leaves. These options can help to minimize the stressors of family caregiving responsibilities on employees and enhance wellbeing. However, the study results show that gender makes a difference in the effectiveness of these workplace supports.

In their study, Li and his colleagues found that the availability of workplace support had a positive impact on the mental health among employed family caregivers. However, gender played a significant role. They found that men needed fewer types of employment adjustment (two to three), whereas women needed more (at least five) to buffer the negative impact of employment adjustment on their mental health.

Considering gender differences is essential to developing equitable, family-oriented workplace supports

The consistent gender imbalance in caregiving means that women tend to manage greater responsibilities. The GSS data showed that, compared with men, women who are employed family caregivers took on higher-intensity caregiving, made more employment adjustments, reported more conflicts in their family and work roles, and received less community or informal support. In this context, coupled with gendered societal expectations that shape how women navigate certain work and family dynamics, women who are caregivers generally require more supportive workplaces than men.

The findings of this study provide empirical evidence on how work, family, and gender intersect and interact, as well as a basis to acknowledge and accommodate gendered experiences when developing programs and policies to support family caregivers.

Gaby Novoa is responsible for communications and publications at the Vanier Institute of the Family.

This research recap was reviewed by Lun Li, PhD.