Background: Countries with advanced welfare systems are increasingly relying on the input of informal caregivers, and there are growing concerns for their mental and physical wellbeing. However, the evidence about the relationship between caregiving and mortality risk is less clear.
Methods: A census-based record linkage study with mortality follow-up of 33 months: participants totalled 1 122 779 individuals including 183 842 caregivers, of whom 28.2% (51 927) were providing 50 or more hours caregiving per week.
Results: Over 33 months of follow-up a total of 29 335 deaths occurred, 2443 of these among caregivers. Mortality risk for caregivers was lower than for non-caregivers [hazard ratio (HR) = 0.72: 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.69, 0.75 in the fully adjusted model], and the lower risk was evident even for those providing 50 or more h of caregiving per week (adjusted HR = 0.77: 95% CI = 0.71, 0.83 and 0.76: 95% CI = 0.69, 0.83 for men and women, respectively). There was no evidence that this relationship varied by either age or marital status. Even among people with chronic health problems such as poor mental health, caregivers had lower mortality risk than non-caregivers. Caregiving is associated with reduced mortality risk for most causes—for example, the risk of death from ischaemic heart disease for caregivers providing 50 or more h was 27% and 31% lower for men and for women, respectively, compared with non-caregivers (HR = 0.73: 95% CI = 0.60, 0.88 and HR = 0.69: 95% CI = 0.51, 0.92).
Conclusions: This large population-based study confirms that for the majority of caregivers the beneficial effects of caregiving in terms of short-term mortality risk appear to outweigh any negative effects, even among people with significant health problems. These results underscore the need for a reappraisal of how caregiving is perceived.