Study: 30 Percent Of Americans Are Caregivers A new study says that 66 million Americans provide care for an elderly parent, family member or a disabled child, and that caregiving has become an unpaid, part-time job. On average, caregivers provide 19 hours of help a week, and this causes people to miss work or to quit work altogether.
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Study: 30 Percent Of Americans Are Caregivers

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Study: 30 Percent Of Americans Are Caregivers

Study: 30 Percent Of Americans Are Caregivers

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

If you care for an elderly parent or spouse or a disabled child, you are among a large group of Americans, 30 percent according to report released today by the AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving.

As NPR's Joseph Shapiro reports the time and energy of caregiving becomes something like an unpaid part-time job.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO: In the new study, caregivers said they spend about 19 hours a week providing care. They do everything: from bathing, dressing, and toileting an elderly parent or a loved one, to balancing a checkbook or doing household chores. That sounds about right to Kathleen Bolweg(ph). In 2001, she was working in New York. But back home, her father had Parkinson's and her mother was struggling to care for him.

Ms. KATHLEEN BOLWEG: My mother needed help, so I closed up my apartment in New York, packed up my stuff, drove here to Wisconsin and moved in with my mother and father.

SHAPIRO: She took a six-month leave of absence from her job as a flight attendant. The new report says about one in five caregivers needs to take a job leave. When Bolweg's was up, her parents still needed her. So she cut her work to part time and commuted back and forth from Wisconsin. Now, it's been five years since her father died, but her mother has developed Parkinson's. So, Bolweg keeps her part-time hours for the airline. She'll take a three-day trip to Cairo or Cape Town, then come home to Wisconsin for a week to cook and care for her mother.

Ms. BOLWEG: It's the thing I had been the most proud of. I'm really proud of how I've taken care of my mom and dad.

SHAPIRO: A few years ago, Bolweg's sister moved back to Wisconsin, too, and she helped some. That's one of the fastest growing trends. As families try to avoid expensive care like assisted living, more members of a family help out to provide unpaid assistance. Most people in the survey say they don't consider caregiving a hardship and Kathleen Bolweg doesn't like to call what she has done her parents a job.

Ms. BOLWEG: And I don't like saying that because that makes it sound like it's a burden and it's not a burden. But it is the equivalent, in terms of time, of another job, exactly.

Ms. ELEANOR GINZLER (AARP): Most of our caregivers are employed as well. They have a paying job and now this unpaid responsibility as well. And they are juggling, their work responsibilities, their family responsibilities and their caregiving responsibilities.

SHAPIRO: That's Eleanor Ginzler of AARP. The AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving did the survey. It was funded by the MetLife Foundation. That group also underwrites reporting on aging for NPR. The results were similar to earlier versions of the survey in 2004 and 1999: two thirds of caregivers are women, the average age is 48. Ginzler says one of the biggest changes this year is just how much caregiving interferes with regular work.

Ms. GINZLER: Making accommodations in the work place has increased in several ways. In most cases, two-thirds of them means they either go in late, leave early or take time off.

SHAPIRO: In the survey, at least 12 percent of caregivers say they've turned down a promotion, reduced their hours, taken a less demanding job, or they've given up work entirely to devote themselves to caring for a loved one.

Joseph Shapiro NPR News.

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