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The 'sandwich generation': Large number of women supporting their adult children and elderly parents

The majority of Irish women aged 50-69 with children and living parents are providing care to both groups, a new study shows.

Image: unhappy mother via Shutterstock

ALMOST A THIRD of Irish women between the ages of 50 and 69 are in the ‘sandwich generation’ — meaning they have children, and their parents are still alive, a newly-released study from Trinity College shows.

Of that number – just over 140,000 in total – the majority are providing care to older and younger generations, including grandchildren.

The ‘Longitudinal Study on Ageing’ report finds that 58 per cent of ‘sandwich generation’ women give help to their parents, while 83 per cent give help to their children. Almost half of this group are providing care and support while also in employment.

In detail, the study found:

  • Half of all women in the category provide “substantial time support to their parents”: One-third provide support towards basic and personal care like dressing, eating and bathing for an average of 21 hours per week.
  • One third provide practical household help, including shopping and household chores to their non-resident adult children for an average of 12 hours per month.
  • One third look after grandchildren for an average of 34 hours per month.
  • 9 per cent provide financial support to their parents, with the average amount being €2,000 in the last two years.
  • Two-thirds provide financial support to their children, at an average of €3,000 over the last two years.
  • Almost 80 per cent of women who were financially supporting their parents were also financially supporting their children.

The authors of the study found there was an impact on women’s health from that having to provide such support, but that it varied by the type of support given. Providing financial support to children was associated with “improved self-rated health,” while providing financial support to parents was associated with increased depression.

Providing practical household support for adult children was also associated with increased depression.

According to lead author Dr Christine McGarrigle: “The impact of financial giving on mental health could be the result of a number of different factors.

“We found that women who gave financial help to their parents were twice as likely to also provide personal care, like dressing, bathing and feeding their parents. Thus the depression experienced by these women may reflect both the financial strain and the stress of informal caring for parents.

“Alternatively depression could be associated with the reduction in savings as a result of the need to provide financial support to parents, and subsequent worry among the sandwich generation women about their ability to provide for themselves and both their parents and children in the future.”

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