Older woman holds hands with daughter on couch.

Caregiving priorities are shifting, research finds, as adults are becoming more likely to use paid time off to care for an older relative and less likely to use PTO for child care.

The University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study, which used data gathered between 1998 and 2016, examined the effect of a 2004 California law, which required employers to offer paid family leave to their employees. As a result of this rule, the researchers observed a 17% decrease in PTO time used for child care and a nearly 50% increase in time spent caring for older relatives.

Older adults, specifically, who may have to care for both their parents as well as grandchildren, were found to spend 39 fewer hours on average providing care for grandchildren and 41 more hours caring for parents over the course of the data collection period. These effects were more pronounced for women, who spent even more time caring for older relatives and less time caring for children or grandchildren.

“There has been a lot of focus on new parents and not as much focus on older adults, but they’re also people who engage in a lot of caregiving,” researcher Joelle Abramowitz said. “This law potentially supports older caregivers, which enables more options for providing care to their parents.”

Family caregiving is costly; the average yearly cost to care for a family member is over $7,000. Beyond the out-of-pocket costs, unpaid caregivers often must take more time off work, working reduced hours, or even retiring early. According to a March 2022 report, increasing access to home- and community-based services can lessen this strain.

“I think it’s important to have more evidence about how policy can influence people’s choices in terms of institutional care versus home care,” Abramowitz said. 
In a national policy change, President Joe Biden signed an executive order in April that expanded access to home health services and Medicare support for family caregivers.