The sandwich generation: Older women balancing work and care

Published Sun 25 Aug 2013
Balancing care responsibilities and work is becoming increasingly difficult, particularly for older women: a 'sandwich generation' is emerging, whose members are caught between providing care for both grandchildren and elderly parents, often while continuing to earn and pursue their career.

This report provides an overview of the trends in work and caregiving that are impacting on the lives of older women today. While focused on their position and experiences in the workplace, and the influence that the economic crisis has had on their lives, it also examines the inequalities that underlie the way that older women are - or rather, are not - represented in politics, business and the media. Finally, we consider how more progressive policies on parental leave and flexible working, and innovative reciprocal time-banking schemes, could enable older women (and men) to balance a longer and a more fulfilling working life with better-supported caring responsibilities.

Among this report's key findings are that:

  • Older women of this 'sandwich generation' are more likely than men to have given up work as a result of their greater caring responsibilities; this disparity is particularly acute for older women on low incomes.
  • Working grandmothers who provide informal childcare for their grandchildren are likely to be younger, in work, and belong to low-income households: 66 per cent of grandmothers who provide between 10-19 hours of childcare a week earn less than £25,999, compared to 25 per cent who earn £44,000 or more.
  • The labour market position of older women in general has greatly improved over the past 25 years, with a dramatic rise in their employment rate. The recession had a mixed impact: while their employment rates have improved, unemployment - particularly long-term unemployment - has increased.
  • Mothers aged over 45 are at the vanguard of the rising number of 'maternal breadwinners' (working single mothers, and working mothers who earn as much as or more than their partner).
  • The increasing number of older women in work, combined with an ageing population, means that serious 'care gaps' are emerging in the UK - particularly in childcare.
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