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8 September 2022

The effect of informal care on the allocation of time: implications for trade-offs, opportunity cost and measurement

Sean Urwin , University of Manchester , United Kingdom

Yiu-Shing Lau, Gunn Grande, Matt Sutton
University of Manchester


Background: Informal care requires a considerable time investment from providers that inherently involves trade-offs against various uses of time. Given that time is a constrained resource, understanding how caregiving affects various uses of time can help identify its value, provide insights into its measurement and highlight potential mechanisms through which health and wellbeing are affected.

Objectives: We examine the effect of informal care on the allocation of time. We further identify the proportion of household tasks that are due to the caregiving role.

Methods: We use the 2014/15 UK Time Use Survey which details how respondents allocate all ten-minute blocks of their time across two days. Our analysis focuses on the amount, fragmentation and timing of six activity types. We supplement objective time-use measures with a subjective measure of time stress. For identification, we employ a ‘doubly robust’ approach which uses entropy balancing supplemented with regression adjustment to compare carers to a reweighted non-carer counterfactual group.

Results: With a sample of 5760 respondents, we find that carers on weekdays spend 49.8 minutes more on non-market work and 57.3 minutes less on market work than non-carers. We further find that carers spend less time on sleep on both weekdays and weekend days at 13.8 and 14.5 minutes, respectively. Carers spend more time on non-market work as a secondary activity and their time is more fragmented throughout the day relative to non-carers. We show that these patterns of time use can be considered 'time stressful' as carers are more likely to feel time stress than non-carers. We further produce a means of identifying the time input of carers from reported household activity.

Conclusions: Our results provide evidence on how caregiving is related to a variety of time use characteristics beyond primary activities. They highlight what aspects of a carers day both policy and interventions could focus on to support carers. We provide evidence on the possible channels through which carer labour market and health outcomes are realised. We derive adjustment factors that could be applied to caregiving time reports in future research.

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