Care in times of COVID-19: The impact of the pandemic on informal caregiving in Austria

Much attention has been paid to the care workforce and care home residents during the COVID-19 crisis, whereas the impact on informal caregivers has remained speculative. In Austria, like in other European countries, informal care is carried out overwhelmingly by (non-cohabiting) relatives. Limited care services available during the crisis, social-distancing, economic uncertainty and competing care needs within households may have changed the profile of informal caregiving and/or increased the psychological strain experienced by caregivers. Focusing on Austria, this study aims to empirically analyse the following research questions: how has the pandemic affected the incidence and intensity of informal caregiving? How has the psychological wellbeing during the first wave of the pandemic compared across different groups of informal caregivers, depending on their gender and parental status? We use a novel representative survey carried out in Austria after the implementation of lockdown measures (June 2020, N=2000). Bivariate and multivariate statistical analysis is applied to a set of survey items dedicated to respondent’s informal caregiving before and after the start of the pandemic and psychological wellbeing. Findings suggest a tightening of care networks, with new carers likely to have stepped in to provide low intensity care to relatively autonomous people. Overall, both prevalence and intensity of informal care did not change significantly (compared to pre-crisis levels). Caregiving was associated with poor psychological outcomes, especially among those without children. Findings are discussed in relation to the emerging literature on the impact of the pandemic and to the policy measures implemented in Austria.
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