People in their 50s and 60s have the most caring responsibilities, with one in five providing unpaid care.
The report shows how working and caring responsibilities are being taken on by older people. As the UK population ages, there is an increasing need for both informal care and for people to stay in work longer.
Sarah Crofts of the centre for ageing and demography at the ONS said: “An ageing population means more older workers may take on caring responsibilities, particularly for a parent. We have shown that working and caring is being combined, particularly by women who are twice as likely than men to combine working and caring.”
While men with caring duties are less likely to work than men who do not provide care, women are equally likely to be in work whether they are carers or not. This gender gap may be linked to the fact that more women work part-time than men, but also to societal expectations of women as caregivers.
There is also a difference in the people men and women are providing care for, with men more likely than women to care for a spouse. Whereas men tend to either care for their parents or spouse, women often provide care to a broader range of people, including non-relatives. When a need for care arises, women tend to take up the role.
Overall, parents are the most common recipient of informal care. For almost two thirds of carers, this did not disrupt their work, as almost 75% of those caring for parents provided fewer than 16 hours of care a week.
This is significant, as the need for older workers to provide parental care is likely to continue to rise as people live longer.
While older people may increasingly be relied upon to provide care for others, Carers UK has found 65% of carers between 60 and 94 also have long-term health problems or disabilities.
The psychological impact of the joint responsibility of providing care and working is different for men and women. The ONS found women who neither worked nor provided care were most likely to be lonely, while loneliness in men was almost entirely related to employment rather than caring responsibilities.
The limited impact of caring on male loneliness may be attributed to men tending to work full-time, and therefore developing stronger workplace social circles than outside work. Female unemployed carers may be less lonely than their male counterparts because of broader social networks, or possibly because caring could be a more familiar experience if they have previously raised children.
Carers UK stressed the difficult position many carers are in, saying: “While caring for someone close to you can be rewarding, it also forces many carers into ill-health, poverty and isolation.
“Alongside 6.5 million personal stories of the frustration, despair, satisfaction and joy of caring, caring is also rapidly becoming one of the biggest political challenges of the 21st century.”
Currently, one in eight adults (about 6.5 million people) in the UK are carers, and this number is expected to increase to 9 million by 2037.