Sandwich generation leads to women dropping out of work

Older mothers who are caring for parents – the so-called ‘sandwich generation’ – are more likely than men to have given up work as a result of their greater caring responsibilities and this disparity is particularly acute for older women on low incomes, according to a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research.

The report, The sandwich generation: older women balancing work and care, 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 claims to examine the inequalities that underlie the way that older women are – or are not – represented in politics, business and the media. It calls for more progressive policies on parental leave and flexible working, and innovative reciprocal time-banking schemes, which it says could enable older women (and men) to balance a longer and a more fulfilling working life with better-supported caring responsibilities.

Among the report’s key findings are that:

– 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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