A Life Course Pinch Point: The Impact of Combining Multigenerational Caregiving and Paid Work on Health in Later Life

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Social Sciences


Increasing life expectancy, rising state pension age and women's increased labour participation mean that older adults are shedding the image of dependency and instead actively taking part in both labour market and family. Although older adults are expected to play increasingly important roles in different social and economic spheres, the consequences of shouldering multiple roles for older adults haven't been fully understood. In the era of population ageing, it is a policy concern to promote the health and wellbeing of the elderly in many countries. Understanding the ways in which older people combine multigenerational caregiving with paid work is relevant for both family and labour policy.

Previous research investigating the effect of multiple roles, focus on young parents and people in their mid-age, yet less attention has been given to older generation who might take care of their grandchildren, older parents and spouses whilst continuing employment. Moreover, most relevant research has been done in the context of western countries. China is unique regarding its social obligations of older people, social care facilities, and public policy on employment. However, research on China mostly ignores the dynamic nature of performing various roles in different life stages.

Adopting a gendered life course perspective, this project will explore how older adults balance work and family responsibilities, and its long-term implications on health. Regional disparity and gender difference will also be investigated to enrich understanding. Additionally, a comparative analysis between China and UK will be conducted to further explore the roles of social, cultural and policy contexts regarding paid employment, retirement and unpaid caregiving. The specific research questions are as follows:
What are the patterns of the work and caregiving trajectories of older people in relation to timing and order of work and care status over the life course?
What are the relationships between different work and care trajectories and the health and wellbeing of older people?
Are these relationships mediated by the intergenerational exchanges (including financial, instrumental and emotional transfers)?
How does gender influence the caregiving and employment and the health outcomes of older people in China and the UK?
Are there spatial inequalities (e.g., rural-urban divide, provincial variation) in these relationships within China and the UK?

This research will be made possible by using two rich longitudinal datasets: China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS) and English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). The research will first identify the patterns of multiple-roles trajectories by taking into account timing and order of work and caregiving status over the life course. The regional disparity will be investigated in a more nuanced way by using multilevel modelling. Furthermore, the pathways linking the paid work, multigenerational caregiving and the health in later life will also be examined to obtain a more in-depth understanding of healthy ageing. Different statistical techniques, including Two-stage Latent Class Analysis, path analysis and multiple imputation will be applied to provide concrete empirical evidence.

This proposed PhD project will contribute to the knowledge of related academic fields, including population health, demography and economics. In addition to the academic sphere, the research aims to benefit a wider audience - employers, policy makers, and older people and their families, possibly prompting evidence-based policy making regarding healthcare, elderly care, childcare, employment and pensions. It also aims at improving the health and wellbeing of older people and reducing the potentially individual and societal cost of ageing. The examination of geographical variation in this study will provide insights for policy makers regarding the effective allocation of health resources.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000665/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2498910 Studentship ES/P000665/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2023 Jingwen Zhang