UCL News


Young carers less likely to graduate from university

22 May 2023

Young people who provide informal unpaid care to family members or others outside their household are on average 38% less likely to obtain a university degree than their counterparts with no caring responsibilities, according to a new study by UCL researchers.

young person bringing a cup of tea to an older person with crutches

The study, published in Advances in Life Course Research, looked at up to 10 years of data from more than 27,000 young adults in the UK who were aged between 16 and 29.

The research team found that the more hours spent caring, the less likely people were to get a degree. For example, those who cared for 35 or more hours a week were 86% less likely to have a degree qualification.

In addition, carers aged 23 or over were less likely than non-carers to enter employment, and this depended largely on how many hours a week they spent caring. Those caring for 35 hours or more a week were 46% less likely to enter employment than non-carers.

The team also found that having a degree protected against the negative effects of caring on the likelihood of being in work. Those caring 10 to 19 hours a week with a degree were 6% less likely to enter work than non-carers, while their counterparts caring the same amount of time but without a degree were 26% less likely to enter work.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that about one in 10 young people aged 16 to 30 in the UK report providing informal care to family members or others.

Lead author Dr Baowen Xue (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care) said: “Young people who provide care for a family member have often been overlooked in research and policy. But the disruption of providing care comes at a key early life stage, when young carers may be starting at college or university or entering employment for the first time. Our research provides robust new evidence about the consequences that caring has on young people’s work and education prospects.”

Senior author Professor Anne McMunn (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care) said: “These findings highlight the importance of supporting the needs of young people who are providing care while making key life transitions into education and employment.

Being a young adult carer can set a person on to a long-term path of disadvantage. To prevent this, we need to identify young carers early and ensure they are supported within education so they have the same life opportunities as their peers.

“In the next phase of our research we will be engaging with young carers about how they can best be supported and, working closely with the Carers Trust, developing recommendations for policy makers and third-sector organisations.”

Rohati Chapman, Executive Director for Policy, Programmes and Impact at Carers Trust said: "This important research provides hard evidence to show that young adult carers urgently need more recognition and help as they try to balance their education alongside caring responsibilities. It also underlines the importance of our call for a young carers lead at every school, college and university. Our Young Carers Futures programmes are working with educators to better identify and support carers in schools and with employers to support inclusive recruitment practice.

“The first ever parliamentary inquiry focused on young carers will be launched next month by the APPG for Young Carers and Young Adult Carers, examining the impact of caring on young people’s life opportunities, including their access to education and employment. This will be a vital conduit for policy recommendations that could help give young carers the support they so desperately need.”

For the study, the researchers analysed data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study, a nationally representative population sample.

They found that, compared with those who had no caring responsibilities, young carers were more likely to come from a disadvantaged, lower income household. One in ten were caring for 35 hours or more a week, a fifth were caring for 20 hours or more a week, while 46% cared for less than five hours a week.

Mostly they were caring for a parent (45%) or grandparent (35%), but 37% said they were caring for someone else, such as a friend or another relative.

The new study is part of a wider research project spanning teams in the UK, Spain, Norway and Germany, working to better understand inequalities faced by carers in different European countries. The project, entitled EUROCARE, is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council as part of the ‘More Years Better Lives’ Joint Programme Initiative.



Media contact

Mark Greaves

T: +44 (0)7990 675947

E: m.greaves [at] ucl.ac.uk