Aiding relatives takes its toll on women

A growing number of women in their 50s and 60s are being forced to provide financial and other supports to their parents, their children and grandchildren.

A report found the strain on the so-called “sandwich generation” of caring for family members above and below them is taking a toll on their health.

The report by The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) also found there is a growing number of adults returning to live with their elderly parents.

The latest analysis from the TILDA data shows:

* 58% of sandwich generation women provide help (financial and non-financial) to their parents;

* 83% give similar help to their children;

* 9% provide financial support to their parents, an average of €2,000 in the past two years, and two thirds to their children, an average of €3,000 in the past two years;

* 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 their grandchildren for an average of 34 hours per month;

* There are roughly 141,000 women (one in three of the overall adult female population) aged 50-69 with both living parents and children.

The study found providing financial support for children was associated with improved self-rated health, but financial support for parents and providing practical household help for children was associated with increased depression.

One of the authors of the study, Dr Christine McGarrigle, epidemiology research fellow at Trinity College Dublin, said the women in the sandwich generation were effectively holding the economy together.

“Definitely, [and] as the economy changes over time they are going to be squeezed more — the demands are only going to increase,” she said.

This report is based on analysis of “wave one” data compiled between 2009 and 2011, but in January wave two data will be launched. According to Dr McGarrigle it will indicate a rise in the return of adult children — and their families — to living with their parents.

“We do see between [wave] one and two previously non-residential children coming through, and grandchildren,” she said.

Increased stress could also lead to decreased employment among sandwich generation women, Dr McGarrigle said, which could in turn affect their standard of living and the economy.

She said “integrated public health policies” should be introduced to help alleviate and manage that stress.

“What surprised me was the sheer magnitude of the contribution that these people make,” she said. “It shows what an essential group they are.”


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