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Later-life care work migration: patterns and determinants of reorganising informal care obligations

2014 Conference Presentation

Informal careWorkforce Austria

3 September 2014

Later-life care work migration: patterns and determinants of reorganising informal care obligations

Gudrun Bauer, Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria
August Österle, Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria


Background: In contrast to other European countries, Austria’s reaction to growing long-term care needs resulted in a major regularization (in 2007) of previously illegal 24-hour care work for older people in private households. 24-hour care workers in Austria are almost exclusively women from Central and Eastern Europe of whom more than 65 % are at an advanced age ranging between 40 and 60 years. The care job is designed as a live-in employment with regular commuting between Austria and the respective home country. Many are confronted with both formal (that is paid 24-hour care work in Austria) and informal care obligations (towards (grand-) children and/or older relatives in the home country) in a transnational social field.

Objective: This study aims to investigate the transnational situations of women from Slovakia and Romania providing 24-hour care work for older people in Austrian private households. In particular, the study is interested in (a) identifying the different informal care obligations women in later-life have, (b) to research patterns of the re-organisation of informal care obligations (childcare, long-term care and domestic work) in the home countries and (c) determinants impacting on the reorganisation of informal care obligations.

Method: The study builds on a qualitative research design with 19 problem-centred interviews with 9 Romanian and 10 Slovakian women who perform 24-hour care work in Austria. Interviews have been conducted between June and December 2013 in rural and urban areas of Austria. Interviewees were women aged 40 to 63. All of the interviewees had children. In the case of grown-up children, some of the interviewees have already stepped into the role of a grandmother.

Results: Preliminary results show that many interviewees are confronted with double or even threefold care obligations across borders. Despite care obligations towards older relatives, many middle-aged women have additional care obligations towards children. Also, care workers around the age of 60 are expected to fulfil their grandmother’s role, though often difficult to realise. Where informal care obligations towards children/older relatives are subject to re-organisation, the extended family appears as the most important source. Male family members increasingly emerge as main substitute caregivers especially for childcare and domestic work, often with additional support from male or female family members. Grandmothers do engage but to a lesser extent than what is known from other studies. In almost half of all cases observed, main substitute caregivers face double or even threefold care burdens as well. Major determinants impacting on the kind of reorganisation of informal care obligations include individual, familial, cultural, work related, organisational and system-related factors in the context of the respective home countries.

Policy Implications: The analysis reveals multiple care obligations of 24-hour care workers in Austria. While women at an advanced age engage in 24-hour care work abroad, the extended family network appears as the main source for the reorganisation of care obligations in the home countries. Beyond individual, familial and cultural factors, the recourse on the family is highly determined by the organisation of long-term care and childcare systems in the respective home countries. With its particular focus on later-life care work migration and transnational care obligations, the study yields implications for long-term care, labour market and migration polices, which will be discussed in the conclusion.