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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1996  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/06/1996   
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Contents >> Family >> Family Services: Principal carers and their caring roles

Services and Assistance: Principal Carers and their Caring Roles

Two-thirds of principal carers reported some change in their physical and emotional well-being due to their caring role.

With the increased emphasis on community care of people with a handicap and of the elderly (see Housing for older people), unpaid informal care by family members is an important source of support for people with a handicap. In 1993, 541,000 people were identified as principal carers. Almost all (95%) principal carers provided care to a family member, most commonly a partner, a parent or a child. Two-thirds of principal carers were women.

Most (72%) principal carers provided care to people living in the same household. Principal carers who lived with the person they cared for generally experienced more disruption to their daily lives than those who lived in a different household.


Types of care and principal carers

Informal care/help is help provided to a person with a disability, or a person who is aged 60 or over, by family, friends or neighbours. Generally, this help is unpaid.

Self-care is care that a person would normally provide for themselves but, due to their age or disability, is now provided by a carer. It includes showering, bathing, dressing, eating, toileting, bladder or bowel control.

Provision of care relating to mobility includes help with going places away from the house or establishment, moving about the house or establishment, and transferring to and from a bed or chair.

Help relating to verbal communication is help with understanding or being understood, in the person's native language, by strangers, family, friends or staff of an establishment.

A principal carer is a person aged 15 or over who is the main provider of informal care to persons who always or sometimes need help for the activities of self-care, mobility or verbal communication.

Disability is the presence of one or more of a selected group of limitations, restrictions or impairments which had lasted, or were likely to last, for a period of six months or more.

Handicap is identified as a limitation in performing certain tasks associated with daily living. The limitation must be due to a disability and be in relation to self-care, mobility, verbal communication, schooling or employment.


Principal carers of partners
In 1993, 42% of principal carers provided care to a partner. Similar numbers of men and women were principal carers of partners (108,000 and 121,000 respectively). However, because there were twice as many female principal carers as male principal carers a higher proportion of the men were principal carers of partners (61% compared to 33%).

43% of principal carers of partners were under 55. 38% of male principal carers caring for a partner were under 55 compared to 48% of female principal carers of partners.

Because principal carers of partners were generally older than other carers and more likely to be of retirement age, they were the least likely of all principal carers to be employed. 27% of principal carers of partners were receiving the age pension as their main source of income.

Principal carers of parents
In 1993, 28% of principal carers provided care to their parent(s). The majority (73%) of these were women. 62% of principal carers of parents did not live in the same household as the recipient of care. Principal carers of parents were most commonly aged 45-54 (36%).

A greater proportion of principal carers of parents were employed (55%) than of principal carers of children (45%) or partners (26%). While looking after parents places fewer restrictions on working than looking after children, principal carers of parents still experienced some restrictions to their working life. 7% of principal carers of parents had reduced their work hours and 5% had given up work in order to fulfil their caring role. Because of their greater likelihood of being employed the incomes of principal carers of parents tended to be higher than those of principal carers of partners or children.

Principal carers of children
In 1993, 17% of principal carers were providers of care to children aged 5 and over with a handicap and 93% of these were women. 42% of all principal carers of children were aged 35-44.

Caring for children with a handicap can often be a lifelong task for parents. Most of the children receiving care were under 15 (59%) but 12% were 30 or over. Principal carers of children also tend to be in the caring role for longer than principal carers of partners or parents. In 1993, 45% of those caring for a child had been doing so for 10 years or longer, compared to 30% caring for a partner and 21% caring for a parent. 20% of principal carers of children had been in the caring role for 20 years or longer, well into the adulthood of the child.

Principal carers of children may be restricted by their caring role from entering the labour force, or may have left work or reduced their hours of work because of their caring role. 50% of female principal carers of children were employed. The majority of these (64%) were employed part-time (the highest proportion of all carer groups). This is because part-time work can better accommodate the times when children need care. 11% of all principal carers of children had reduced their work hours and 10% had given up work in order to fulfil their caring role.

RELATIONSHIP OF PRINCIPAL CARER TO RECIPIENT OF CARE, 1993

Principal carers

Men
Women
Persons
Recipient of care
%
%
%

Partner
60.7
33.4
42.3
Parent
22.9
30.3
27.9
Child
3.8*
22.7
16.5
Other(a)
12.5
13.7
13.3
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
'000
'000
'000
Total carers
177.2
364.0
541.2

(a) Other family members (e.g brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or grandparents) or non-family members.

Source: Focus on Families: Caring in Families (cat. no. 4423.0)

PRINCIPAL CARERS BY AGE, 1993

Age
Principal carers of partners
Principal carers of parents
Principal carers of children
All principal carers(a)
%
%
%
%

15-24
1.6*
7.0
* *
3.8
25-34
8.0
10.1
21.0
12.3
35-44
14.5
26.2
42.3
22.4
45-54
19.2
36.2
18.0
23.9
55-64
20.1
16.7
7.8*
16.9
65-74
21.1
3.7*
6.6*
13.2
75 and over
15.5
* *
3.6*
7.5
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
'000
'000
'000
'000
Total
229.1
150.9
89.3
541.2

(a) Includes principal carers of other family members (e.g brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or grandparents) or non-family members.

Source: Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (unpublished data)


Impact on daily life
The caring role can place many demands on a principal carer's time. These demands can operate as a barrier to other lifestyle choices. Carers may be unable to pursue employment, educational or recreational activities because of their caring role or to complete regular tasks such as housework.

More principal carers of partners and children than principal carers of parents reported that their caring role affected their ability to do housework and go out of the house. This is largely because they were more likely than principal carers of parents to live in the same household as the recipient of care. 46% of principal carers living in the same household as the recipient of care reported that their caring role affected their ability to do housework compared to 19% of those not in the same household. 23% of those living in the same household as the recipient of care experienced difficulties in arranging to go out during the day and 36% experienced difficulties in arranging to go out during the evening. This compared to 6% and 5% respectively of those not living in the same household.

Some principal carers reported that their caring role led to difficulties in going on holiday. 41% of principal carers in the same household took fewer holidays or could not go on holiday compared to 20% not in the same household. The most common reasons given were difficulties in arranging alternative care or that they could only take holidays with the care recipient.

Carers who lived in the same household as the recipient of care were more likely to have their sleep interrupted (45%) than carers who did not live in the same household (16%). In both cases, 60% of them reported that the interrupted sleep interfered with their normal daily activities.

HOW CARING AFFECTS PRINCIPAL CARERS' WORKING LIVES, 1993

Principal carers of partners
Principal carers of parents
Principal carers of children
All principal carers(a)
Effect on working life
%
%
%
%

Currently working
26.2
55.5
45.2
39.8
    No change in work hours
22.8
48.4
34.2
34.0
    Reduced hours for caring role
3.5*
7.0
11.0
5.8
Not currently working
73.8
44.5
54.8
60.2
    Worked prior to caring role
27.5
17.4
19.6
22.5
    Gave up work for caring role
7.8
4.5*
10.4
6.6
    Did not work prior to caring role
46.3
27.1
35.2
37.7
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
'000
'000
'000
'000
Total
229.1
150.9
89.3
541.2

(a) Includes principal carers of other family members (e.g brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or grandparents) or non-family members.

Source: Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (unpublished data)

PRINCIPAL CARERS WHOSE DAILY LIVES(a) WERE AFFECTED BY THE CARING ROLE, 1993

In same household
Not in same household
Total
Effect on daily life(b)
%
%
%

Less able to go out in the day
23.1
6.1
18.3
Less able to go out in the evening
36.1
4.8*
27.2
Less able to go on holiday
41.2
20.5
35.2
Less able to do housework
46.3
18.9
38.5
Interrupted sleep
44.6
15.7
36.4

(a) Effects on daily lives not stated have been excluded from percentage calculations.
(b) Excludes minor changes to activities.

Source: Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (unpublished data)


Effect on relationships
Caring for another person is a rewarding and demanding role that can both strengthen relationships and place strains on them. In 1993, 33% of principal carers reported that their caring role had brought them closer to the recipient of care while 22% reported a strain on their relationship.

Approximately equal proportions of principal carers of partners reported feeling closer to their partners (28%) as felt a strain on their relationship (27%). However, these effects differed between men and women. 31% of men caring for their partner felt closer to their partner compared to 25% of women. 34% of women caring for a partner reported a strain on their relationship compared to 19% of men. Women caring for their partners who found a change at all were more likely to experience negative rather than positive effects on all their relationships.

Principal carers of parents had lower proportions reporting relationship strains with their partner and with other family members than did principal carers of partners or children. 10% reported a strain in relations with their partner and 15% reported a strain on relations with other family members.

37% of parents caring for a child felt closer to that child, while for 20% the relationship with the child was strained. A higher proportion of principal carers of children found their relationships with their partners (19%) and other family members (31%) strained than of other principal carers.

As principal carers modify their lifestyles to accommodate the caring role, they may lose touch with existing friends or their friends may change. Principal carers of partners were most likely to have lost contact with their friends (24%) compared to principal carers of children (17%) and of parents (16%).

PRINCIPAL CARERS WHOSE RELATIONSHIPS WERE AFFECTED BY THEIR CARING ROLE(a), 1993

Principal carers of partners
Principal carers of parents
Principal carers of children
All principal carers(b)
Effect on relationships
%
%
%
%

Strain on relationships
    With recipient of care
27.1
19.0
20.1
21.5
    With partner(c)
. .
9.5
19.1
. .
    With other family members
16.5
14.9
30.8
17.7
Lost contact with friends
23.7
16.4
16.7
19.3
Brought closer together
    With recipient of care
27.7
32.8
37.0
33.3
    With partner(c)
. .
3.0*
14.7
. .
    With other family members
10.5
8.7
12.7
10.0

(a) Effects on relationships not stated have been excluded from percentage calculations.
(b) Includes principal carers of other family members (e.g brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or grandparents) or non-family members.
(c) Partners who were not the recipients of care.

Source: Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (unpublished data)


Physical and emotional well-being
In 1993, 67% of principal carers reported some change in their physical and emotional well-being as a result of their caring role. The effects varied according to the relationship between the carer and the recipient. Principal carers of children were more likely than other principal carers to have been frequently worried, depressed or angry (45%), to have felt weary or lacked energy (41%), and to have had a stress related illness (21%). Principal carers of partners were least likely than other principal carers to have felt satisfied.

HOW CARING AFFECTS PRINCIPAL CARERS' WELLBEING, 1993

Effect on physical and emotional well-being
Principal carers of partners
Principal carers of parents
Principal carers of children
All principal carers(a)
%
%
%
%

No change
33.3
35.3
20.1
32.8
Feel satisfied
14.6
23.3
17.7
19.5
Feel weary, lack energy
28.4
21.5
41.2
27.3
Frequently worried, depressed, angry
30.4
28.0
44.7
31.0
Stress related illness
14.6
8.4
20.5
12.9
Total(b)
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

(a) Includes principal carers of other family members (e.g brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or grandparents) or non-family members.
(b) Components do not add to total because principal carers may report more than one type of effect.

Source: Focus on Families: Caring in Families (4423.0)


Support for carers
Principal carers may need many types of support, such as practical, financial, or simply sympathetic understanding. The level of help that principal carers need may vary between individuals and over time. In 1993, less than half (48%) of principal carers received help with their caring roles from family, friends or formal organisations. Principal carers of partners were less likely to have received help (28%) than principal carers of parents (63%) or principal carers of children (62%). 44% of principal carers of children received their main help from their partner, while 30% of those who cared for a parent received their main help from a family member other than a partner. Because many principal carers care for their partners, the main source of help for principal carers overall was family members other than a partner.

Respite care services, such as home respite, day care respite or the peer support program, were used by 12% of principal carers.

Most principal carers do not receive any training for their caring role, and the majority do not belong to a carer support group. Principal carers of children represented only 17% of all principal carers, but 53% of them had received training for their caring role. In comparison, 25% of principal carers of partners had received training. This is because principal carers of children are more likely to come into contact with formal support groups through information provided by hospitals or child health clinics. Principal carers of partners are more likely to gradually increase their caring responsibilities over time without coming into contact with specialist support groups and may therefore be less likely to receive training or information about support groups.

PRINCIPAL CARERS' MAIN SOURCE OF HELP WITH THE CARING ROLE, 1993

Principal carers of partners
Principal carers of parents
Principal carers of children
All principal carers
Main source of help
%
%
%
%

Received help
28.3
62.7
62.4
47.7
    Partner
. .
16.2
44.3
13.9
    Other family member
17.4
29.7
9.4
19.9
    Friend(a)
1.5*
4.6*
1.3*
3.5
    Formal help
9.2
12.2
7.4*
10.3
No help
71.7
37.3
37.6
52.3
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

(a) Includes neighbours and other help.

Source: Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (unpublished data).

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