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Money Pressures Mount When a Spouse Gets Cancer

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THURSDAY, April 27, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Family income can take a big hit when a wife or husband cares for a spouse with cancer, researchers report.

Based on data from working-age couples in Canada, average household income declined between 5 percent and 9 percent, the researchers found.

"The average annual household income for the working-age couples we studied was about $100,000, so the loss of income per family is about $5,000 to $9,000, which is a pretty substantial decline," study co-author Vincent Pohl said. He is an assistant professor of economics at the University of Georgia.

"In a situation where one household member has a devastating diagnosis, it leads to the whole household suffering economically," Pohl said in a university news release.

There are two ways household income shrinks, the researchers said.

"One is that the person who is diagnosed might not be able to work because they are getting treatment or they're too sick to work. The second is what happens to their spouse: Does the spouse work more to make up for the lost income or does the spouse also reduce his or her labor supply in order to take care of the spouse that is diagnosed with cancer?" Pohl said.

"We find the latter, that spouses reduce their labor supply and therefore have lowered income levels, which leads to the household having lower income levels as well," he explained.

A man's earnings fall 3.5 percent and a woman's up to 6 percent after a spouse's cancer diagnosis, according to the study. Because insurance doesn't cover family caregiving, a household's bottom line is affected, the researchers said.

"If you think about disability insurance, it's a function of an individual's inability to work," Pohl said. "It doesn't take into account that family members might have to take care of an individual and therefore might also lose their job or reduce their working hours and thus their income."

He said policymakers need to consider how to protect "not just individuals from the consequences of getting sick, but their entire family."

The study was published recently in the Journal of Health Economics.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on caregiving.

SOURCE: University of Georgia, news release, April 24, 2017
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