Family work and quality of life

December 06, 2002

Looking after the family in mid life might mean the family will have to look after you in later life. The price of having multiple responsibilities within the family - partner, parent, carer, paid worker - is revealed in new research as particularly adverse for pension prospects, with women hit hardest.

Maria Evandrou and Karen Glaser, Institute of Gerontology, King's College London, undertook the study as part of the Growing Older Programme funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. First, they identify an increase in multiple roles; second, they highlight the adverse implications, in terms of reduced income now and less opportunity to accumulate pensions for the future.

Occupational and private pensions are the problem. People who care for a sick or elderly dependent and are also a parent, for instance, or who combine paid work with being a parent are not greatly disadvantaged in terms of entitlement to the state pension once certain schemes are added in. But in private pension provision, only a little over half of women aged between 45-59 had paid into a fund. Among men, three-quarters were in a fund. And for women who are parents, or who combine parenting with caring, less than one third were covered.

Even women who had paid into a private pension were still at a disadvantage. On average, their contributions totalled only 13 years compared to 21 years for men. The extent of this disadvantage in so-called 'second-tier' pensions will be all the greater, warn the researchers, as such pensions become even more important as the real value of the basic state pension - not linked to earnings - declines.

The researchers identified that for many women, being in paid employment and fulfilling caring responsibilities was not an option. One in five who had become a carer said that they had stopped work altogether, another one in five reduced their working hours, earned less money or worked only restricted hours.

Both men and women who stopped work were less likely to be a member of an occupational pension scheme; where they were signed up to such a scheme, they had accumulated fewer years of contributions, with implications for the level of pension income that they will receive in later life.

In a message to policymakers, the research calls on Government to rectify wages and pensions deficits revealed as being shouldered by carers. They argue that the sort of schemes introduced by the Government to balance paid work and parenting more effectively should be extended to people with other caring responsibilities. Parental leave, time off for dependants and long-term career breaks, for instance, should be available.

In a bid to improve pensions, it is suggested that the Government extend the system of credits being paid into the new State Second Pension to encompass a bigger pool, for instance, working carers who provide care of more than 16 hours a week and earn below the lower earnings limit (£72 a week in April 2002).
The research project was based on secondary analysis of surveys including the British Household Panel Study, the Family and Working Lives Survey, the General Household Survey and the Retirement Survey.

For further information, contact: Maria Evandrou, 020 7848 3038; email: Or Iain Stewart or Lesley Lilley, ESRC External Relations, 01793 413032/413119


1. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It has a track record of providing high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC invests more than £53 million every year in social science research. At any time, its range of funding schemes may be supporting 2,000 researchers within academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences, thereby nurturing the researchers of tomorrow. The ESRC website address is
2. The ESRC's £3.5 million Growing Older Research Programme consists of 24 research projects focussed on how to extend the quality of life in old age. The programme aims to pursue a broad-based multi-disciplinary programme designed to generate new knowledge on extending quality life and to contribute to the development of policies and practices in the field. For further information on the Growing Older Research Programme contact the director Professor Alan Walker at the University of Sheffield on telephone 0114 222 6466.
3. REGARD is the ESRC's database of research. It provides a key source of information on ESRC social science research awards and all associated publications and products. The website can be found at

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