There are so many names that describe the different generations, but here’s one you may not have heard of – the Sandwich generation.
The sandwich generation are people who care for ageing parents while supporting their children. When the term was coined, it generally referred to people in their 30s and 40s. Now the sandwich generation has grown older and deeper. People in their 50s, 60s and 70s are caring for their elderly parents, needy adult children and lively grandchildren. The sandwich has become a triple.
The layers of responsibility will soon grow, with over 65s children caring for two generations either side of them, from grandparent to grandchild. At the same time, the government will expect these adult children to work ever longer and save more for their own old age. Care for older people is majority self-care and family care.
In New Zealand caring for older and younger family members is not something new. The typical family carer is female, older than the typical New Zealand adult and more likely to be a Pakeha or Maori than to come from any other group. She is also suffering to some degree financially because of what she does, even as her unpaid contributions save the country billions of dollars each year for doing on average an extra 30 hours of demanding work each week.
In the United Kingdom Dr Debora Price, director of the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing at the University of Manchester, believes the number of people aged over 65 providing care to their parents and grandchildren is likely to increase. “While they are still relatively young, they also face competing pressures to continue in the paid workforce under the government’s extending working lives agenda and with rises in the state pension age. But they are also expected to – and do – care for their grandchildren,” she said. “And of course as these carers age, they also become more likely to have a spouse who may need care, or to start to encounter health problems themselves.”
With the introduction of the Healthy Aging Strategy and the governments’ encouragement to keep people in their homes for longer, the number of family carers will increase with many finding it unaffordable to hire a full-time in home carer for their parents. There is a deep sense of obligation felt by family members who go to extraordinary measures to care for other members of their family. The evidence is also of widespread carer fatigue and breakdown – carers are twice as likely to suffer from mental health problems – as well as discrimination in the jobs market. There needs to be a focus on support for this unpaid workforce so that caring for family members does not come as a detriment to their health if the government wants their plan to succeed.