We recently published a study * at the International Journal of Public Health, that looks into the prevalence of the “sandwich generation” in Ireland and its impact on self-reported health. I must confess: until now I only knew of the term “sandwich child” or middle child syndrome, as I am a middle child myself! 😉 So reading our new article made me look into the sandwich generation a bit more. And it seems that it is a subject that has received some attention lately! Here is an article in the Guardian and one in the NY Times providing some interesting initial reading on the subject.
The term refers to people who have both living parents AND younger dependent children and often have to care for both of them, both financially and not financially. Although the patterns of support differ depending on socioeconomic conditions within family, as well as cultural expectations, the fact that people are living longer and tend to give birth later results in more and more people belonging to the sandwich generation.In addition, the global recession might have a further impact on the ability of older or younger people to support themselves. Previous studies have found that the impact of providing intergenerational support on health varies by the type of support given.
Our recently published study aimed to investigate the prevalence of intergenerational giving from women in Ireland and how intergenerational transfers impact self-reported health of women within the sandwich generation. The authors looked into different types of support to children and parents: financial help to children; financial help to parents; non financial help to children (household, paperwork); non financial help to parents (help with basic personal activities and help with chores); taking care of grandchildren). The paper uses data from 3,196 women from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing .
The study found that about 31% of women aged 50-69 were in the sandwich generation and the majority provided care to both their elderly parents and dependent children. Financial support for children was associated with improved self-rated physical health but financial support to parents was associated with increased depression. Women who provided other care for their children showed evidence of poorer mental health. This cohort will be followed in the future and hopefully provide useful insights on the effects being in the sandwich generation has on health.
The authors found that supporting two generations was associated with both better self-rated health and poorer mental health, depending on the type and direction of transfers.
Apart from the effects on health, the challenges faced by the sandwich generation could make other types or readjustments necessary. After the recent publication of a report on the subject in the UK, it was recommended that parents should be allowed to transfer parental leave to their children’s grandparents. Additionally, there are websites dedicated to people being in such situations, as well as a lot of personal blogs , where people talk about their experiences. Finally, there is even a radio show dedicated on the matter, as well as a movie where a couple’s personal experience is documented.
What do you think? Are you perhaps a member of the sandwich generation? How has it affected your life and health? What is helping you deal with the challenges and what other kind of support would you kike to have? Share your experience with us!