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Overlooked and undervalued: the caring contribution of older people

Fiona Carmichael (Department of Management, Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)
Marco G. Ercolani (Department of Economics, Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)

International Journal of Social Economics

ISSN: 0306-8293

Article publication date: 6 May 2014




Older people are often perceived to be a drain on health care resources. This ignores their caring contribution to the health care sector. The purpose of this paper is to address this imbalance and highlight the role of older people as carers.


The study uses a unique data set supplied by a charity. It covers 1,985 caregivers, their characteristics, type and amount of care provided and the characteristics and needs of those cared-for. Binary and ordered logistic regression is used to examine determinates of the supply of care. Fairlie-Oaxaca-Blinder decompositions are used to disentangle the extent to which differences in the supply of care by age are due to observable endowment effects or coefficient effects. Nationally representative British Household Panel Survey data provide contextualization.


Older caregivers are more intensive carers, caring for longer hours, providing more co-residential and personal care. They are therefore more likely to be in greater need of assistance. The decompositions show that their more intensive caring contribution is partly explained by the largely exogenous characteristics and needs of the people they care for.

Research limitations/implications

The data are regional and constrained by the supplier's design.

Social implications

Older carers make a significant contribution to health care provision. Their allocation of time to caregiving is not a free choice, it is constrained by the needs of those cared-for.


If the burden of care and caring contribution are measured by hours supplied and provision of intimate personal care, then a case is made that older carers experience the greatest burden and contribute the most to the community.



This research was supported by the British Academy. British Household Panel Survey was made available through the Office of National Statistics and the ESRC Data Archive.


Carmichael, F. and G. Ercolani, M. (2014), "Overlooked and undervalued: the caring contribution of older people", International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 41 No. 5, pp. 397-419.



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