For Love or Money: Portrait of a Voluntary Long-Term Caregiver

100690168It is a story that doesn’t grab many headlines, but its stealthy impact is growing at an alarming rate. Today, some 65 million Americans — 29% of the U.S. population — provide at least 20 hours per week of unpaid care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member or friend.1 According to statistics compiled by the Caregiver Action Network, the value of the services family caregivers provide for free is estimated to be $375 billion a year. That is almost twice as much as is actually spent on homecare and nursing home services combined ($158 billion).

While voluntary caregiving is an activity that impacts both men and women — it is estimated that 66% of adult women and 34% of adult men provide unpaid care for a friend or family member — a profile of the average caregiver suggests she is a 49-year-old woman caring for her widowed mother.1

The Financial Fallout

Family caregiving can interfere with individuals’ careers and put them at financial risk. According to AARP, family caregivers who are at least 50 years old and leave the workforce to care for a parent forgo, on average, $304,000 in lost salary and benefits over their lifetime. These estimates range from $283,716 for men to $324,044 for women.2 Evidence suggests, however, that due to the higher amount of lost income and their tendency to assume the role of caregiver in midlife, women caregivers face a substantially higher risk of living in poverty in their elder years than do men. The cost of caregiving effects employers as well. Data shows that U.S. businesses lose more than $33 billion annually in productivity losses and worker absences. Broken down on a per-worker basis, the annual cost to employers per full-time employee amounts to $2,110.3

Completing the Portrait

The following statistics compiled by PBS NewsHour help to round out the portrait of today’s long-term caregiver in America.


  • Female — 66%
  • Male — 34%

Work accommodations: Percent who have:

  • Arrived late, left early, or taken time off — 64%
  • Taken a leave of absence — 17%
  • Quit or taken early retirement — 10%
  • Turned down a promotion — 5%
  • Any of the above — 68%

Relationship to individual cared for:

  • Parent/in-law — 72%
  • Grandparent — 7%
  • Spouse — 5%
  • Sibling — 3%
  • Aunt/uncle — 2%
  • Other family — 5%
  • Non-family — 6%

Percent who’ve used all or most of their own savings to provide care — 47%

Among ALL U.S. workers, percent who:

  • Expect to provide elder care in next five years — 49%
  • Have provided care for an aging relative or friend in past five years — 42%

If you are currently a caregiver or expect to be one in the not-too-distant future and would like to learn more, the following resources offer good starting points:

1PBS News Hour, “Value of voluntary long term care for family reaches staggering amounts,” April 8, 2014.

2AARP: Understanding the Impact of Family Caregiving on Work, Fact Sheet 271, October, 2012 and MetLife Mature Market Institute, “The MetLife Study of Caregiving: Costs to Work Caregivers: Double Jeopardy for Baby Boomers Caring For Their Parents,” 2011.

3AARP: Understanding the Impact of Family Caregiving on Work, Fact Sheet 271, October, 2012 and MetLife Mature Market Institute and National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC), MetLife Caregiving Study: “Productivity Losses to U.S. Business,” 2006.