Life course causes and consequences of caring: how do work and family histories influence caring, and how does caring influence health and well-being?

Lead Research Organisation: University College London


Caring for ageing or sick friends or relatives is an increasing demand on the resources of those in middle and older age, particularly as life expectancy increases but years of healthy life does not. 48% of 55 year olds have reported having a caring responsibility for an older relative and 21% of women and 14% of men spend more than 10 hours a week caring for relatives other than their children. This project will seek to better understand who cares, and the potential impact of caring on the health and wellbeing of carers.
This project aims to investigate, firstly, how roles and activities across adult life, such as partnership, parenthood and work histories, might lead to having a caring responsibility in mid-life. Secondly, it will explore how members of households share responsibility for caring and working. Finally, the project will assess the consequences of caregiving for health and well-being of carers. All aspects of the project will also investigate whether relationships differ for men and women, and for more and less advantaged people.
To address the objectives of the project we will use data from two ESRC-funded sources: the National Child Development Study (NCDS), which is a cohort of people who were born in Great Britain in 1958, more than 9100 of whom have been followed up to age 55 years; and the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), which has interviewed the same people, living in about 40,000 households across the UK, every year since 2009. We will use novel and complex statistical techniques to make the most of the data available and to address the aims of our project.
The project will have a number of outputs, with which we aim to reach our five key audiences: local and national government, the charitable sector, our academic peers, our user community of carers, and the general public. We will produce four peer reviewed journal articles, give conference presentations, and present our work at seminars and lectures for all audiences. We will prepare briefing notes summarising our findings for non-academic audiences, press release our findings and write posts for relevant online publications.
The project has two non-academic partners who have been involved in the development of our plans, will continue their involvement throughout the duration of the project, and will help to ensure that the research undertaken and findings produced are most useful to their user audiences. The partners are Sam Schwab, who is the Commissioning Team Manager for Adult Social Care at the London Borough of Newham, where he is seconded from Department of Health, and Sue Arthur, who is a Policy and Research Manager at Independent Age, a charity which specialises in offering advice to older people and their carers on issues such as accessing benefits and care. We also plan to collaborate with Carers UK, a membership organisation for carers with which we have been in conversation.
One of the major objectives of the project is to provide opportunities to strengthen the skills of the research team, and in particular those of our early career researcher Rebecca Lacey. This project will help her to develop her skills in methods of analysis of longitudinal data, including using a new dataset. It will also provide her with her first opportunity to be co-investigator on a grant, a key step in developing an academic career, and will extend her experience of disseminating findings to both academic and policy audiences.

Planned Impact

There are five key audiences with whom we will engage during this project: 1) local and national government, 2) the charitable sector, 3) our academic peers, 4) our user community of carers, and 5) the general public. In designing our research with the input of our non-academic partners, and maintaining their engagement throughout the project, our research will produce findings which are relevant and useful to these groups. We will undertake a number of communication activities to provide these groups with access to our research findings, as outlined below:
1. Local and national government
Briefing notes, written in conjunction with our non-academic partners, will be designed with a policy making audience in mind. We will send them to a list of people compiled from our individual and ESRC International Centre for Longitudinal Studies in Society and Health (ICLS) contacts and those of our non-academic partner Sam Schwab, who, as an employee of the Department of Health seconded to the London Borough of Newham as their Commissioning Team Manager for Adult Social Care, has contacts working in adult social care policy in both central and local government. We will also distribute our briefing notes to members of parliament, in particular the members of Commons Select Committees for Health and for Communities and Local Government. We will additionally engage with those in local and national government by inviting them to our end of project Policy Seminar, which will be hosted jointly with ICLS.
2. The charitable sector
We will actively engage the charitable sector in the development of our research through our non-academic partner Sue Arthur at Independent Age, who will contribute to our research plans throughout the project. Her experience in lobbying government will assist in producing our briefing notes. Our colleagues in the charitable sector, including those contacts we have from previous work and through ICLS, will be invited to our end of project Policy Seminar. Further, we will present our findings at seminars at Independent Age and Carers UK.
3. Academic audience
We will engage with our academic peers through our peer reviewed publications (targeted at Psychoneuroendocrinology, Longitudinal and Life Course Studies, Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, and Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health), our presentations at academic conferences and through presentations at ICLS seminars and Centre Days.
4. Carers
Our non-academic partner organisation Independent Age is a charity for older people with experience of engaging directly with older people and their carers. We will use their expertise to help us to engage with this difficult to reach community. We will organise an event for carers through the ESRC Festival of Social Science, using the contacts of our non-academic partner at Independent Age, and of Carers UK. To make this event accessible to the widest audience, we will lecturecast it on YouTube.
5. General public
We will disseminate our findings to the general public, firstly by press releasing our journal articles through ICLS, UCL and the relevant journals. Secondly, we will present our research findings at a UCL Lunch Hour Lecture ( These provide an opportunity for UCL staff members who have produced exceptional research to present their findings to an open audience. They are free to attend and attract an audience of several hundred members of the public. They are also streamed live online and posted on YouTube, where they are accessed by more than 1000 people.
In addition to the activities listed above, we will ensure that we have a web presence and are active in social media. The project will have a Twitter account, and the ICLS website will host a podcast we produce from our findings. We will also write for relevant blogs and websites, such as the Inequalities blog, CLOSER opinion page and The Conversation
Description We found that being a carer had a negative effect on psychological health and also on objective, biomarkers of health, such as measures of adiposity and metabolic markers. Associations were particularly marked for women, those who were young adults and those providing 'intense' caregiving e.g. many hours.

We also found that people who were married long-term were more likely to be caring for a parent or parent in law by mid-life. Also the longer that women spent in part-time work, the more likely they were to be a carer later on to a parent. However for men, if they had strong long-term ties to full-time work they were more likely to be a carer to a parent or parent-in-law by mid-life.
Exploitation Route We identified groups of people who were most likely to have poor health as a consequence of being a carer. These were women, those who were young adults and also those who were providing a lot of care. These are important groups to identify when assessing care need or provision of formal care.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Healthcare

Description Collaboration on impact activities 
Organisation Independent Age
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We have met twice, and shared our research findings and planned next steps in our research, as well as plans for engagement activities.
Collaborator Contribution At our meetings, Independent Age have been enthusiastic collaborators, who have provided insight and expertise into our research findings and plans, have suggested novel avenues for research and have given practical advice and support in our planning of an event for informal carers during Carers Week in June and an event for policy makers in November.
Impact No outcomes yet, but planned event as mentioned above.
Start Year 2016
Description Carers Week event for Southamption University 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Patients, carers and/or patient groups
Results and Impact Organised and delivered event for Southampton University's carers network on findings from this project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Carers Week event for carers 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Patients, carers and/or patient groups
Results and Impact We delivered an event in collaboration with Carers UK and Independent Age for carers. We presented findings from this project and Carers UK responded to the findings. We also had talks from carers themselves.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017