The women caught in 'sandwich generation'
ONE in three women in their 50s and 60s is part of a "sandwich generation", burdened with caring for children and elderly parents.
Around 141,400 middle-aged women are caught between two layers of family, providing practical and financial support.
Many are left with little time to themselves – and it is coming at a price by impacting on their physical and mental health, according to the latest report of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) led by Trinity College.
One-third of these women are looking after grandchildren for an average of 34 hours a month and two-thirds are having to pick up the bills for their children, giving them an average of €3,000 in the past two years.
A quarter of these women have given a large financial gift to their children in the last decade, averaging €45,000, the findings revealed.
And one in 10 is carrying the financial weight of helping out their parents, giving them an average of €2,000 in the last two years.
Many are also providing practical household help – including shopping and household chores – for grown-up children no longer living at home, for an average of 12 hours a month.
The report said this social trend involving so much personal sacrifice is being fuelled by women having children later in life and older people living longer .
Women in this bind tend to have a higher level of education, while 44pc are aged less than 55 years and 5pc are aged between 65 and 69.
One-third provides support towards their parents' basic and personal care such as dressing, eating and bathing for an average of 21 hours per week; while more than half help with household chores, transportation and shopping.
Supporting children financially is associated with improved self-rated health among women from the sandwich generation.
But doing the same for their parents is linked to increased depression, as is providing household support for children.
Lead author Dr Christine McGarrigle, an Epidemiology Research Fellow, said: "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."
The report also warned that the global recession may impact on the ability of both elderly parents and younger adult children to support themselves financially – so the sandwich generation may be increasingly faced with ongoing responsibilities at a time they should be thinking of retirement.
Rose Anne Kenny, professor of geriatric medicine at the School of Medicine in Trinity, said the growing ageing population and the increasing demands on the middle generation for both financial and informal care could impact negatively on that generation's health.
And they would need advice on how to juggle all their roles in order to reduce this stress on their health and well-being, she added.