Journal of Family and Economic Issues

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 5–20 | Cite as

The Costs of Caring: Caregiver Strain and Work-Family Conflict Among Canadian Workers

  • Paul GlavinEmail author
  • Amanda Peters
Original Paper


We analyzed survey data from a nationally representative study of Canadian labor force participants (n = 5,667) to examine the social distribution and mental health of those who provide unpaid health-related care to a family member or relative. As part of these analyses, we investigated gender differences in the association between caregiving frequency and mental health. Multivariate analyses revealed evidence that women caregivers experienced greater health penalties than men with care commitments. Mediation analyses further indicated that work-family conflict fully explained the caregiver strain experienced by men, while it only partially accounted for caregiver strain among women. These results extend previous research that has documented differences in the duties and experiences of men and women caregivers. We discuss direct empathetic crossover as a potential contributory factor for women’s caregiving strain.


Caregiving Mental health Work-family conflict 


  1. Bellavia, G., & Frone, M. (2005). Work-family conflict. In J. Barling, E. K. Kelloway, & M. Frone (Eds.), Handbook of work stress (pp. 113–147). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bianchi, S. M., & Milkie, M. A. (2010). Work and family research in the first decade of the 21st century. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(3), 705–725. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Blair-Loy, M. (2003). Competing Devotions. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Byron, D. (2005). A meta-analytic review of work-family conflict and its antecedents. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 67, 169–198. doi: 10.1016/j.jvb.2004.08.009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carter, J. H., Lyons, K. S., Stewart, B. J., Archbold, P. G., & Scobee, R. (2010). Does age make a difference in caregiver strain? Comparison of young versus older caregivers in early-stage Parkinson’s disease. Movement Disorders, 25(6), 724–730. doi: 10.1002/mds.22888.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chassin, L., Macy, J. T., Presson, C. C., Seo, D.-C., & Sherman, S. J. (2010). The association between membership in the sandwich generation and health behaviors: A longitudinal study. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31, 38–46. doi: 10.1016/j.appdev.2009.06.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chesley, N., & Moen, P. (2006). When workers care: Dual-earner couples’ caregiving strategies, benefit use, and psychological well-being. American Behavioural Scientist, 49(9), 1248–1269. doi: 10.1177/0002764206286388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, New Jersey: L. Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  9. Cohen, C. A., Colantonion, A., & Vernich, L. (2002). Positive aspects of caregiving: Rounding out the caregiver experience. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 17, 184–188. doi: 10.1002/gps.561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Coser, R. L., & Rokoff, G. (1971). Women in the occupational world: Social disruption and conflict. Social Problems, 18(4), 535–554. doi: 10.2307/799727.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Coughlin, J. (2010). Estimating the impact of caregiving and employment on well-being. Outcomes & Insights in Health Management, 2(1), 1–7.Google Scholar
  12. Cranswick, K., & Thomas, D. (2005). Elder care and the complexities of social networks. Canadian Social Trends, Statistics Canada. Resource document. Retrieved from:
  13. Dentinger, E., & Clarkberg, M. (2002). Informal caregiving and retirement timing among men and women: Gender and caregiving relationships in late midlife. Journal of Family Issues, 23(7), 857–879. doi: 10.1177/019251302236598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dosman, D., & Keating, N. (2005). Cheaper for whom? Costs experienced by formal caregivers in adult family living programs. Journal of Aging & Social Policy, 17(2), 67–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Duxbury, L., & Higgins, C. (2009). Key findings and conclusions from the 2001 national work-life conflict study. Health Canada. Resource document. Retrieved from:
  16. Duxbury, L., & Higgins, C. (2012). Revisiting work-life issues in Canada: The 2012 national study on balancing work and caregiving in Canada. Resource document. Retrieved from:
  17. Fast, J., Dosman, D., Lero, D. & Lucas, S. (2013). The intersection of caregiving and employment across the life course. Research on Aging Policy and Practice, University of Alberta. Resource document. Retrieved from:
  18. Fast, J., Niehaus, L., Eales, J., & Keating, N. (2002). A profile of Canadian chronic care providers. Research on Aging Policy and Practice, University of Alberta. Resource document. Retrieved from:
  19. Gauthier, A. H., Smeeding, T. M., & Furstenberg, F. F. (2004). Are parents investing less time in children? Trends in selected industrialized countries. Population and development review, 30(4), 647–672.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Giménez-Nadal, J. I., Marcén, M., & Ortega, R. (2012a). Substitution and presence effects of children on mothers’ adult care time. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 33(1), 2–10. doi: 10.1080/00036846.2011.558486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Giménez-Nadal, J. I., Molina, J. A., & Ortega, R. (2012b). Self-employed mothers and the work-family conflict. Applied Economics, 44(17), 2133–2147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Glavin, P., Schieman, S., & Reid, S. (2011). Boundary-spanning work demands and the their consequences for guilt and psychological distress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 52, 43–57. doi: 10.1177/0022146510395023.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Grunfeld, E., Glossop, R., McDowell, I., & Danbrook, C. (1997). Caring for elderly people at home: The consequences to caregivers. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 157(8), 1101–1105.Google Scholar
  24. Harden, J. (2005). Developmental life stage and couples’ experiences with prostate cancer: A review of the literature. Cancer Nursing, 28(2), 85–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hill, E. J., Erickson, J. J., Fellows, K. J., Martinengo, G., & Allen, S. M. (2014). Work and family over the life course: Do older workers differ? Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 35(1), 1–13. doi: 10.1007/s10834-012-9346-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hochschild, A. R. (1997). The time bind: When work becomes home and home becomes work. New York: Metropolitan/Holt.Google Scholar
  27. Hollander, M. J., Lui, G., & Chappell, N. L. (2009). Who cares and how much? The imputed economic contribution to the Canadian healthcare system of middle-aged and older unpaid caregivers providing care to the elderly. Healthcare Quarterly, 12(2), 42–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kelly, E. L., Moen, P., & Tranby, E. (2011). Changing workplaces to reduce work-family conflict schedule control in a white-collar organization. American Sociological Review, 76(2), 265–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kessler, R. C., Andrews, G., Colpe, L. J., Hiripi, E., Mroczek, D. K., Normand, S. L. T., et al. (2002). Short screening scales to monitor population prevalences and trends in non-specific psychological distress. Psychological Medicine, 32(6), 959–976.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lero, D. S., Keating, N., Fast, J., Joseph, G., & Cook, L. (2007). The interplay of risk factors associated with negative outcomes among family caregivers: A synthesis of the literature. Centre for Families, Work and Wellbeing, University of Guelph. Resource document. Retrieved from:
  31. Lilly, M. B., Laporte, A., & Coyte, P. C. (2010). Do they care too much to work? The influence of caregiving intensity on the labor force participation of unpaid caregivers in Canada. Journal of Health Economics, 29, 895–903. doi: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2010.08.007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Marks, N. F. (1998). Does it hurt to care? Caregiving, work-family conflict, and midlife well-being. Journal of Marriage and Family, 60, 951–966. doi: 10.2307/353637.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Milkie, M. A., & Peltola, P. (1999). Playing all the roles: Gender and the work-family balancing act. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61(2), 476–490. doi: 10.2307/353763.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Minnotte, K. L. (2012). Family structure, gender, and the work-family interface: Work-to-family conflict among single and partnered parents. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 33, 95–107. doi: 10.1007/s10834-011-9261-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mirowsky, J., & Ross, C. E. (2003). Social causes of psychological distress. Piscataway, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar
  36. Moen, P., & Roehling, P. (2005). The Career Mystique: Cracks in the American Dream. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  37. Morris, L. A. (2012). Testing respite effect of work on stress among mothers of children with special needs. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 33(1), 24–40. doi: 10.1007/s10834-011-9267-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mullen, J., Kelley, E., & Kelloway, E. K. (2008). Health and wellbeing outcomes of the work-family interface. In D. Whitehead, K. Korabik, & D. Lero (Eds.), Handbook of work and family. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.Google Scholar
  39. Murphy, K. E. (1997). Parenting a technology assisted infant: Coping with occupational stress. Social Work in Health Care, 24, 113–126. doi: 10.1300/J010v24n03_09.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Nes, R. B., Hauge, L. J., Kornstad, T., Kristensen, P., Landolt, M. A., Eskedal, L. T., et al. (2014). The impact of child behaviour problems on maternal employment. A longitudinal cohort study. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 35, 351–361. doi: 10.1007/s10834-013-9378-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Pavalko, E. K., & Woodbury, S. (2000). Social roles as process: Caregiving careers and women’s health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 41, 91–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pearlin, L. I., Mullan, J. T., Semple, S. J., & Skaff, M. M. (1990). Caregiving and the stress process: An overview of concepts and their measures. Gerontologist, 30, 583–594. doi: 10.1093/geront/30.5.583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pedersen, D. E., & Kilzer, G. (2014). Work-to-family conflict and the maternal gatekeeping of dual-earner mothers with young children. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 35(2), 251–262. doi: 10.1007/s10834-013-9370-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pinquart, M., & Sörensen, S. (2006). Gender differences in caregiver stressors, social resources, and health: An updated meta-analysis. Journal of Gerontology, 61(1), 33–45. doi: 10.1093/geronb/61.1.P33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rosenfield, S., & Smith, D. (2009). Gender and mental health: Do males and females have different amounts or types of problems? In T. L. Scheid & T. N. Brown (Eds.), A handbook for the study of mental health: Social contexts, theories, and systems (pp. 256–267). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rosenthal, C. J., Martin-Matthews, A., & Keefe, J. (1999). Families as care providers versus care-managers. Gender and type of care in a sample of employed Canadians (SEDAP Research Paper No. 4). Hamilton, Ontario: McMaster University. Retrieved April,13 2003.Google Scholar
  47. Schieman, S., & Glavin, P. (2011). Education and work-family conflict: Explanations, contingencies and mental health consequences. Social Forces, 89(4), 1341–1362. doi: 10.1093/sf/89.4.1341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Schieman, S., & Young, M. (2010). Is there a downside to schedule control for the work-family Interface? Journal of Family Issues, 31(10), 1391–1414. doi: 10.1177/0192513X10361866.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Schieman, S., & Young, M. (2011). Economic hardship and family-to-work conflict The importance of gender and work conditions. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 32(1), 46–61. doi: 10.1007/s10834-010-9206-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Simon, R. W. (1995). Gender, multiple roles, role meaning, and mental health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 36(2), 182–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Singleton, J. (2000). Women caring for elderly family members: Shaping non-traditional work and family initiatives. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 31, 367–375.Google Scholar
  52. Sinha, M. (2013). Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social SurveyPortrait of Caregivers, 2012. Statistics Canada. Resource document.,%202012&loc=/pub/89-652-x/89-652-x2013001-eng.pdf. Accessed 5 April 2014.
  53. Sobel, M. E. (1982). Asymptotic confidence intervals for indirect effects in structural equation models. Sociological Methodology, 13, 290–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Tuttle, R., & Garr, M. (2012). Shift work and work to family fit: Does schedule control matter? Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 33(3), 261–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Vitaliano, P. P., Zhang, J., & Scanlan, J. M. (2003). Is caregiving hazardous to one’s physical health? A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 129(6), 946–972. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.129.6.946.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Voydanoff, P. (2005). Toward a conceptualization of perceived work-family fit and balance: A demands and resources approach. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 822–836. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2005.00178.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Voydanoff, P. (2007). Work, family, and community: Exploring interconnections. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  58. Westman, M. (2001). Stress and strain crossover. Human Relations, 54, 717–751.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Williams, C. (2004). The sandwich generation. Resource document. Statistics Canada. Retrieved from:
  60. Young, M., & Schieman, S. (2012). When hard times take a toll: The distressing consequences of economic hardship and life events within the family-work interface. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 53(1), 84–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Zuba, M., & Schneider, U. (2013). What helps working informal caregivers? The role of workplace characteristics in balancing work and adult-care responsibilities. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 34(4), 460–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

Personalised recommendations