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Influence of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Private Care Networks in Europe

Recent SHARE study finds increasing amount of caregiving from adult children to parents and mental health strains of these caregivers. Additionally, one out of five care recipients reported difficulties in receiving care!

  • One out of five care recipients reported difficulties in receiving care since the outbreak of the pandemic.
  • People with difficulties in receiving care reported more cancellations of medical treatments by themselves due to their fear of a COVID-19 infection.
  • More than every second parental caregiver aged 50 + reported an increase of personal care provision to their parents due to COVID-19.
  • Parental caregivers who increased their care activities due to COVID-19 felt twice as often depressive and anxious as those who did not increase parental caring.

(March 2021) Physical distancing and stay-at-home restrictions - since the beginning of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changes our daily life. The pandemic strongly affects people all over the world in different ways - especially those who need or provide personal care. In Europe, a high percentage of people receive care at home. Elderly people often rely on support from family members or from people outside the household. Due to the public health control measures installed in nearly all European countries, formal care providers had to reduce care provision leading to smaller care networks and more responsibility for private caregivers – who already had to deal with high amounts of pressure before the pandemic.

A new study by Bergmann & Wagner from the Munich Center for the Economics of Aging (MEA) focuses on how the pandemic influences the situation of informal care across Europe during the first phase of the pandemic in spring 2020 to face the challenges of caregivers and care recipients.

Increasing amount of caregiving from adult children to parents

The study shows that the amount of personal care provision to parents increased across Europe while the amount of personal care provision to others, in particular from parents to their (adult) children, decreased. Depending on the country, between 42% (Baltic States) and 58% (Eastern Europe) of all parental caregivers declared an increase of personal care provision to their parents since the outbreak of the pandemic, which means that, on average, more than every second parental caregiver reported an increase.

Mental health strains of caregivers increased

Furthermore, the findings clearly show that caregivers (compared to non-caregivers) more often felt depressed and anxious as a consequence of the pandemic and its accompanying public health measures. This result was even more pronounced for parental caregivers who increased their caregiving activities since the outbreak of the pandemic. In this group nearly 30 percent indicated a feeling of depression and nearly 40 percent of anxiety more frequently. Both values were roughly about two times as high as with respect to caregivers who did not increase their care activities towards their parents. Especially caregivers in highly affected countries in Southern Europe and the Baltic States reported high amounts of mental health issues. However, general physical health seems to be unaffected.

Physical and mental health situation of care recipients also worse

Furthermore, the researchers found, that care receiving actually was associated with a worsened physical and mental health: Compared to non-care recipients, care recipients indicated a significantly worsened general physical health. Care recipients also more often reported that they felt depressed, anxious, and lonely. But: Compared to caregivers, the pandemic affects care receivers’ mental health to a lesser extent. 

On average, one out of five care recipients reported difficulties in receiving care since the outbreak of the pandemic

Overall, about 21 percent of all care recipients reported difficulties in receiving care. This share was by far the highest in Southern European countries: More than every third care recipient in these countries reported difficulties in receiving care since the outbreak of the pandemic, while it was less than one out of ten in Eastern Europe.

Cancelled medical treatments

Care recipients, overall, did not indicate a worsening of their situation with respect to pursuing planned medical treatments compared to non-care recipients. However, when differentiating between care recipients with and without difficulties in receiving the care they need, the researchers found that those perceiving difficulties reported substantially more cancellations of medical treatments by themselves due to their fear of a COVID-19 infection. There also were country-specific differences: The researchers found higher amounts of individual canceling for Southern European countries, which were highly affected by the first phase of the pandemic.

Pandemic increased inherent problems of care across Europe

The results reveal an increased burden for both – caregivers and care recipients – due to the pandemic. Overall, the study shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has a substantial impact on private care networks. It clearly shows the extent of burden caregivers are exposed to with respect to non-intended effects of the epidemiological control measures and, at the same time, suggests a great need within this population for interventions effectively reducing burden as well as symptoms of anxiousness or depression to avoid further consequences.

The study combines data from SHARE Wave 8 as well as previous waves and the new SHARE Corona Survey fielded from June to August 2020 from over 50,000 people aged 50+ to investigate how caregivers and care recipients living at home dealt with the situation. The combination of both datasets provides the opportunity to enrich analyses with crucial background information on the respondent’s situation before the pandemic and enables us to understand better the effects of a global pandemic.

Due to the rapid changing pandemic situation, further research is needed to fully understand the consequences of the pandemic across Europe.


Study by Michael Bergmann and Melanie Wagner (2021). Caregiving and care receiving across Europe during the COVID-19 pandemic. SHARE Working Paper Series 59-2021. Munich: Munich Center for the Economics of Aging (MEA). DOI: 10.17617/2.3289768.

URL: http://www.share-project.org/uploads/tx_sharepublications/SHARE_WP_59-2021__02.pdf

Photo: Adobe Stock / aerogondo