Background: The health and socioeconomic outcomes from being a caregiver are well described. In contrast, the long-term trajectories of caring undertaken by women, and the demographic, socioeconomic status, health status and health behaviour characteristics associated with these trajectories is not well known.
Methods: The data were from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health. Participants were 14,202 women born 1973–78 followed for 13 years, and 12,282 women born 1946–1951 followed for 9 years. Latent class analyses and multinomial logistic regression were used.
Results: Five distinct trajectories of caring were identified for the younger women: these represented ‘ongoing’, ‘starting’, ‘never’ and 2 types of ‘transitional’ caring. While traditional indicators of poorer socioeconomic status were associated with trajectories representing ‘ongoing’ and ‘starting’ caring, they were not associated with ‘transitional’ caring trajectories. Three distinct trajectories of caring were identified for the mid-age women: these represented ‘ongoing’, ‘starting’ and ‘never’ caring. For the mid-age women, poorer socioeconomic status indicators were associated with the ‘ongoing’ caring, but not ’starting’ caring.
Conclusions: Women in the 1973–78 cohort showed more varying and transitional caring trajectories compared to those in the 1946–51 cohort, and these trajectories were not associated with traditional socioeconomic indicators. An ‘opportunity cost’ theory for who become carers does not support young transitional carers or mid-aged women beginning new caring. Health policies, education and awareness campaigns for women carers need to target outside previously identified populations.