Unpaid Family Caregiving and Retirement Savings

Workers face regular economic challenges from caring for children and adult relatives and friends. Christian Weller and Michele Tolson show that many caregivers, especially women, earn less, work fewer hours, and face greater emotional and physical demands from care. These factors can translate into a lower likelihood of participating in a 401(k) plan, contributing to such a plan and saving for one’s own retirement.  Among single women and men, caregiving risk widens the retirement savings gap by more than 10 percent.

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Abstract

Workers face regular economic challenges from caring for children and adult relatives and friends. These challenges pose additional demand on their time and finances. As a result, many caregivers, especially women could end up with fewer retirement savings. They earn less, work fewer hours, and face greater emotional and physical demands from care. All of these factors can translate into a lower likelihood of participating in a 401(k) plan, contributing to such a plan and saving for one’s own retirement. We use nationally representative data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances to estimate the impact of potentially caring for children, parents and sick spouses on 401(k) participation. Our results suggest that caregiving risk – both related to child care and adult care – lower 401(k) participation and contributions for women. Among single women and men, caregiving risk widens the savings gap by more than 10 percent.

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