Are informal caregivers less happy than noncaregivers? Happiness and the intensity of caregiving in combination with paid and voluntary work
Informal caregivers are one of the pillars of home health care. In the Netherlands, the free help they provide to sick or disabled family members, acquaintances or friends exceeds the number of hours of home care provided by professionals. While the government welcomes their contribution, there is concern about the potential burden their work imposes on them. On the one hand, there is concern that informal caregiving could be experienced as a burden and diminish subjective well-being; on the other, helping others as a meaningful activity might increase their subjective well-being. Happiness ratings (as an indicator of subjective well-being) of persons whose involvement in informal caregiving, voluntary work and paid work ranged from none to full time were analysed using multivariate regression models, which also took into account levels of physical disability and socio-economic characteristics (age, sex, household composition, education level). The sample consisted of 336 informal caregivers and 1765 noncaregivers in the Dutch population. In line with the subjective well-being assumption, the results suggest that caregivers are happier than noncaregivers when they provide care for <6 hours a week; and in line with the burden assumption, the results show that providing care for more than 11 hours a week is associated with lower levels of happiness. Other results contradicted the burden assumption that combining caregiving with paid or voluntary work is associated with more time burden and less happiness. The result that combining caregiving with paid employment or volunteering is related to higher rates of happiness confirms the subjective well-being assumption. It is concluded that these cross-sectional results open ways to longitudinal research that can inform governments in the development of policies to support informal caregivers.