Almost One-Third of U.S. Adult Population Plays Caregiver Role in Households Across America: 65.7 Million Caregivers

Caregiving is still mostly a woman’s job and many women are putting their career and financial futures on hold as they juggle part-time caregiving and full-time job requirements. This is the reality reported in Caregiving in the U.S. 2009, the most comprehensive examination to date of caregiving in America. The sweeping study of the legions of people caring for adults, the elderly, and children with special needs reveals that 29% of the U.S. adult population, or 65.7 million people, are caregivers, including 31% of all households. These caregivers provide an average of 20 hours of care per week.

Caregiving in the U.S. 2009, which was funded by MetLife Foundation and conducted for the National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP by Mathew Greenwald & Associates, is the result of interviews with 1,480 caregivers chosen at random. The study was designed to replicate similar studies conducted in 2004 and 1997 and includes, for the first time, a sampling of those caring for children as well as those caring for adults over the age of 18.

Among the findings: American caregivers are predominantly female (66%) and are an average of 48 years old. Most care for a relative (86%), most often a parent (36%). Seven in ten caregivers care for someone over age 50. One in seven caregivers provides care, over and above regular parenting, to a child with special needs (14%). Caregiving lasts an average of 4.6 years.

The study also revealed that both caregivers of adults and their care recipients are now older than their counterparts were five years ago. Among caregivers of adults (ages 18 or older), the average age of the caregiver rose from 46 to 49. The change can be attributed to a decline among younger caregivers (those under the age of 50) and a shift upward among caregivers age 50 to 64. Among caregivers of adults, the average care recipient’s age increased from 67 to 69, mainly because of an increase in the percentage age 75 or older (from 43% to 51%).

The main reasons people need care are old age (12%), Alzheimer’s disease (10%), mental/emotional illness (7%), cancer (7%), heart disease (5%) and stroke (5%). However, the list of illnesses/problems for which children need care is quite different. It is led by ADD/ADHD, autism, mental/emotional illness and developmental delay/mental retardation. Caregivers of children provide the most time-intensive care. Increasingly, the study reports, there is a use of prescription medication for adult care recipients.

Caregivers are also receiving more help than they were five years ago, which is encouraging news, since one in six caregivers (17%) report that caregiving has had a negative impact on their health. Since 2004, there has been a sharp increase in the share of caregivers of adults who say they are getting help from other unpaid caregivers — up nine percentage points among those not caring for an adult in a nursing home. However, during the same time period, there has been a six percentage point decrease in those who report that their recipient uses paid help, a decrease that could potentially be linked to the recent recession.

“More and more people who are 65-plus are providing care to both children and adults,” said Gail Hunt, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving. “The shift to an older population of caregivers points to a real need for assistance for these individuals from family, friends, employers and social service programs. With more support for caregiving, older and disabled people would be able to do what is so important to them, to remain in their own homes with those they love.”

“Now in addition to family and work, boomers have added caregiving, the equivalent of a part time job, to their responsibilities,” said Elinor Ginzler, AARP Senior Vice President for Livable Communities. “Their work, health and time with family and friends already bear some of the cost for this amped up juggling act. Caregivers need help and information to continue to keep all the balls in the air and assure that they don’t end up paying further with their own retirement security.”

“Caregivers report they need help looking after their loved ones, but they also need help managing their own stress,” said Dennis White, president and CEO of MetLife Foundation. “Those surveyed suggested potential solutions for these challenges, including greater access to information resources, emergency response devices, transportation assistance, and respite services for caregivers.”