27 September 2023
HESTA has conducted key research shedding light on the hidden costs of unpaid care, with significant implications for women’s productivity and financial wellbeing.
Research conducted over 2022 and 2023 found that an average of 28 hours is spent providing unpaid care each week, which is more likely to be undertaken by women.
The research is highlighted in a report released today by the McKell Institute that discusses the importance of quantifying unpaid work, and why it is undervalued. The report also highlights the significance of recognising unpaid work as essential for supporting paid work and how time use surveys are a critical tool for more equitable public policy development.
The findings support the case for formally measuring the role of unpaid care work in Australia and recognising the impact this has on economic contribution, financial wellbeing, and equity in retirement savings.
According to the survey results, 66 per cent of respondents under 50 not in full-time employment said they would work more paid hours if they did not have unpaid caring duties, thereby boosting their income, superannuation, and addressing labour shortages.
HESTA has released its research findings to coincide with the visit of Doctor Marilyn Waring to Australia, who has researched and written extensively on why unpaid care should be included as a measure of GDP. Dr. Waring will be speaking on this topic at several HESTA-supported speaking engagements.
HESTA CEO Debby Blakey said the survey findings show the importance of measuring unpaid care and understanding its impact on the financial and retirement outcomes of those experiencing reduced workforce participation due to caring roles.
She welcomed the Federal Government’s decision to increase the frequency of time-use surveys to capture national data on unpaid care work.
“The experience of our members aligns with the research conducted by Dr. Waring over many decades – that unpaid care does affect productivity within the paid labour market, disproportionately disadvantaging women in retirement,” Ms Blakey said.
Ms Blakey said it was clear that members working in paid employment while providing unpaid care were facing significant financial strain and impact on their mental health, family, and community wellbeing.
“For HESTA member respondents, the most trying aspect of providing unpaid care was the impact on their mental health. Ninety-two per cent of respondents said that juggling the demands of unpaid care affected their mental health, with 50 per cent stating the impact as quite significant,” she said.
“Fifty-one per cent of our members reported that they don’t share the responsibility of their caring duties, meaning that for many, the burden of unpaid care, and the personal or financial consequences of that care, are carried by them alone.”
Eighty-eight per cent of members reported unpaid care impacted their family involvement, and 83 per cent said it affected community involvement, restricting their ability to engage within society.
Notably, 69 per cent of respondents said that their workplace accommodated their caring needs moderately, very, or extremely well, showing that workplaces were flexible to varying degrees when employees needed to take on unpaid care responsibilities.
“It is pleasing to see many workplaces understand the challenge people face in providing unpaid care. Formally measuring the role and contribution of unpaid care work to society will likely further enhance these support mechanisms,” Ms Blakey said.
Key findings from HESTA member research on unpaid care shows:
- More than half (52 per cent) of HESTA members are actively engaged in providing unpaid care, with 88 per cent of these caregivers being women. This stark gender disparity highlights the need for gender-inclusive policies and support mechanisms.
- The research indicates that unpaid caregiving responsibilities are a significant barrier to workforce participation, particularly among those under 50. Two-thirds (66 per cent) of HESTA members in this age group unable to work full time due to caring responsibilities expressed their willingness to work more if not for these caregiving obligations.
- On average, HESTA members devote 28 hours per week to providing unpaid care, diverting their time and energy from other pursuits, including paid employment.
- The emotional toll of juggling unpaid caregiving duties is undeniable, with 92 per cent of respondents reporting adverse effects on their mental health.
- The research paints a concerning picture of the financial implications of unpaid care, as 85 per cent of respondents disclosed these responsibilities negatively impacted their superannuation and income.
- Research studies conducted among a representative sample of HESTA Members in 2022 and 2023.
HESTA is one of the largest superannuation funds dedicated to Australia’s health and community services sector. An industry fund that’s run only to benefit members, HESTA now has more than one million members (around 80% of whom are women) and currently manages approximately $76 billion* in assets invested around the world.
*Information is current as at the date of issue.
About Dr Waring
Marilyn Waring CNZM is a New Zealand feminist, former politician, author, academic, and activist for female human rights and environmental issues. She is best known for her 1988 book If Women Counted, and she obtained a D.Phil. in political economy in 1989. Through her research and writing she is known as the principal founder of the discipline of feminist economics. Since 2006, Waring has been a Professor of Public Policy at the Institute of Public Policy at AUT in Auckland, New Zealand, focusing on governance and public policy, political economy, gender analysis, and human rights.