Objective The aim of the present study was to compare the health status of South Australians with recent experience of caring for an adult with chronic disease with non-carers drawn from the same population. Methods Data were collected via the South Australian Health Omnibus, an annual population-based, cross-sectional survey. Respondents were asked whether they had provided care or support in the last 5 years to someone with cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, mental illness, neurological disease or dementia. Health status was measured using the Short Form-12 version 1 (SF-12) physical and mental component scale summary scores (PCS and MCS respectively), with poor health status defined as ≥0.5 standard deviation below the normative mean. Logistic regression explored characteristics associated with poor health status.Results Of 3033 respondents analysed, 987 (32.5%) reported caring experience. Poor PCS and MCS were associated with carer status, lower-than-degree-level education, employment status other than employed and annual household income less than A$60000. Being Australian born was a protective factor for PCS, whereas factors protective for MCS were being married or in a de facto relationship and age ≥65 years.Conclusions Providing care or support in the last 5 years is independently associated with poorer health status, but not with the magnitude found in studies of current carers. Future research should explore health status recovery after completion of the caring role, and investigate whether relationships between health and socioeconomic status differ for carers versus non-carers. What is known about the topic? Population-based survey studies in Australia and overseas have consistently found that informal carers have worse health status than non-carers.What does this paper add? Including recent as well as current carers in a population-based sample was associated with less effect on health status compared with studies focused on current carers only. This finding is consistent with the possibility that health status recovers during the 5 years after caring.What are the implications for practitioners? Support for Australian carers is warranted to ensure their continuing contributions to society and return to productivity after their caring role is completed.