Two thirds of UK adults can expect to care unpaid for a loved one in their lifetime, according to research from the universities of Sheffield and Birmingham.
The study, published by the charity Carers UK, also revealed that the average person has a 50:50 chance of caring for someone by the age of 50.
Women can expect to take on caring responsibilities more than a decade earlier than men, the researchers found.
Half of women will care by the age of 46, compared with half of men who can expect to care at 57, which means that women are especially likely to care during their working life.
‘Most adults will provide care at some point in their lives, some for years, others for shorter periods. Caring features in men's and women’s lives, but women are especially likely to be caring at ages when they'd expect to be in paid work,’ said Professor Sue Yeandle, director of the Centre for International Research on Care, Labour and Equalities at the University of Sheffield.
‘Lifetime patterns of caring, and periods of demanding or stressful care, have implications for policymakers and employers as well as carers themselves.
‘Services need to be organised so that, when under pressure, carers can access suitable support. Employers need to know about adjustments they can make to support employees with caring responsibilities at different career stages.
‘The findings released in this report add to our understanding of the likelihood of being a carer. We hope they will also contribute to achieving progress for carers, who urgently need better services and more support to manage work and care.’
Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said: ‘Many of us don’t expect to become an unpaid carer but the reality is two in three of us will do it in our lifetimes.
‘Our research shows women are disproportionately affected, facing difficult decisions about their loved ones’ health, family finances and how best to combine paid work and care more than a decade earlier than men.
‘The next Government has to make sure this ‘gender care gap’ is addressed by giving carers a right of five to 10 days of paid care leave. It must also prioritise sustainable, long term investment in our social care system so that millions of people caring for loved ones can stay in work and look after their own health.’