Reconciling Work and Care

Whereas the reconciliation of childcare and employment has been an issue of public debate for quite some years to some decades now, the question how individuals reconcile paid employment and informal caregiving to (mostly elderly people) within their family or in their social networks, has yet not attracted as much public or political interest. Fortunately, research is a step ahead there.

With regard to the challenges of demographic ageing, the consequences for welfare states and individuals are manifold. For instance, since pension systems increasingly fail to balance the shrinking ratio of workers vs. pensioners, a common policy reform has been to increase working lives and motivate prolonged careers. Or, informal family caregiving may be incentivized by so-called "Cash-for-Care" policy schemes in order to cover the need for elder care. I argue that these challenges and the policy reactions to these challenges lead to "new" reconciliation issues which predominantly arise in the second half of life and concern workers' last 10 to 15 years in the labour market.

Previous research has already addressed the question as to whether and to which degree informal elder care leads to labour market exits or a reduction of working hours - but most of the research in the field has yet not adequately addressed the complex nature of these decisions and how they are embedded at various levels of social integration.

Drawing on the life course theory framework, I identify several dimensions of contextual embedding, in which these decisions take place. For instance, individuals base their decisions whether and how to work and care on their previous life course experiences and the opportunities or constraints, as well as the skills and merits they've gained from previous engagement in these activities. Secondly, caregiving is usually organized within larger family networks, hence, the characteristics, life courses, costs and opportunities of a number of connected individuals are taken into account, when the allocation of caregiving is negotiated. Finally, individuals' and families' decisions are taken with regard to the contextual characteristics, here, particularly social policies and cultural norms seem to play a role.

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