Unpaid caregiving and paid work over life-courses: different pathways, diverging outcomes

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Colleges, School and Institutes


This paper investigates the extent to which people’s earlier circumstances and experiences shape subsequent life-courses. We do this using UK longitudinal data to provide a dynamic analysis of employment and caregiving histories for 4339 people over 15-20 years between 1991 and 2010. We analyse these histories as sequences using optimal matching and cluster analysis to identify five distinct employment-caregiving pathways. Regression analysis shows that prior to embarking on these pathways, people are already differentiated by life-stage, gender and attitudes towards family and gender roles. Difference-in-differences estimation shows that some initial differences in income, subjective health and wellbeing widen over time, while others narrow. In particular, those following the most caregiving-intensive pathways not only end up poorer but also experience a relative decline in subjective health and wellbeing. These results confirm that early circumstances and experiences have a strong influence on later life-courses, consistent with pre-determination, persistence, and path dependence.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online date21 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


  • Caregiving, Unpaid work, Labour force participation, Social attitudes, Life-course