Background Little is known about the effects of personal and other characteristics of care recipients on the behaviour of carers. The aim of this study is to examine the association between the main chronic (disabling) condition of care recipients and the likelihood of their (matched) primary carers aged 15–64 years being out of the labour force. Methods We conducted a retrospective analysis of cross-sectional data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2009 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) for people aged 15–64 years. We estimated the rates of exit from the labour force for primary carers and non-carers; rates of chronic disease occurrence for care recipients living with their main carers; odds ratios of primary carers being out of the labour force associated with the main chronic condition of their care recipient who lives with them. Results From the 2009 SDAC, we identified 1,268 out of 37,186 eligible participants who were primary carers of a care recipient who lived with them. Of these, 628 (49.5%) were out of the labour force. Most common diseases of care recipients were: back problems (12%); arthritis and related disorders (10%); diseases of the nervous system (such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, cerebral palsy) (7.4%); and conditions originating in the perinatal period or congenital malformations, deformations and chromosomal abnormalities (5.1%). When adjusted for age, sex, education and whether have a long term chronic condition of informal carers, the five conditions of care recipients associated with the highest odds of their carers being out of the labour force were: head injury/acquired brain damage; neoplasms, blood diseases, disorders of the immune system; leg/knee/foot/hip damage from injury/accident; dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease; and diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue (osteoporosis). Conclusions This study identifies the type of conditions that have the greatest impact on the labour force participation of informal carers – previously unavailable information for Australia. Australia, like most developed countries, is facing several skills shortages and an ageing population. These governments will need to adopt novel and more wholistic approaches to increase the labour force participation of diverse groups. Informal carers are one such group.