Informal care in Europe: findings from the European Social Survey (2014) special module on the social determinants of health

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Abstract

Background:

Against the background of a rising demand for informal care in European societies, this study sets out to provide descriptive information by gender on (i) prevalence rates of (intensive) informal caregiving, (ii) characteristics of (intensive) informal caregivers and (iii) consequences of (intensive) informal caregiving in terms of mental well-being.

Methods:

Data from the European Social Survey, Round 7 were analysed with multilevel (logistic) regression techniques (n = 28 406 respondents in n = 20 countries).

Results:

On average, 34.3% of the population in 20 European countries were informal caregivers and 7.6% were intensive caregivers (providing care for minimum 11 h a week). Countries with high numbers of caregivers had low numbers of intensive caregivers. Caregiving was most prevalent among women, 50–59 year olds, non-employed—especially those doing housework—and religious persons. Determinants of providing care hardly differed by gender. Caregivers, especially female and intensive caregivers, reported lower mental well-being than non-caregivers.

Conclusions:

Our results suggest support for both crowding-in and crowding-out effects of the welfare state. Middle-aged women may become increasingly time squeezed as they are likely to be the first to respond to higher demands for informal care, while they are also the major target groups in employment policies aiming for increased labour market participation. Caregivers, and especially female and intensive caregivers, report lower levels of mental well-being. Supportive policies such as respite care or training and counselling may therefore be needed in order to sustain informal care as an important resource of our health care systems.

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