A family carer's role affects women's work ability and career prospects more negatively than men's
Scandinavian countries are often described as a role model of the social state, of a society that actively supports gender equality, etc. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that in Scandinavia, already in the present day, topics related to demographic ageing, such as the new phenomenon of the "sandwich generation", are discussed more intensely and analytically than elsewhere. I interviewed Professor Kaisa Kauppinen from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health on the sandwich generation and its gender implications.
What is the sandwich generation and why has it been discussed all over Europe lately?
The "sandwich" age/generation refers to individuals who are involved in caring for both their growing children and their ageing parents; they are 'sandwiched' between the needs of their children and their aged parents, and often their jobs outside the home. Working people of the sandwich generation represent about 9-13 per cent of American middle-class households. In Britain, it is estimated that 22 per cent of women and 17 per cent of men aged 45-64 provide care for a dependent parent. According to a Canadian study, one third of those aged 45-64 with children at home care for an elderly family member, mostly their own or their spouse's parents. In Finland, of the working people aged 45-63, who care for an elderly or sick family member, 27 per cent have children living at home. Most typically, this care activity is directed towards aged parents.
What are some of the gender-specific dimensions and needs of the sandwich generation?
Carers are predominantly women, but men are becoming more and more involved. Women are typically more intensively involved in care than men: in Finland 6.7 hours per week versus 4.1 hours per week. There are also gender differences in the type of care provided by women and men. Women are more involved in housework than men which is in line with other studies. Women also provide more personal care (bathing, dressing and personal hygiene) whereas men's care activity is more instrumental (maintenance and repair work in the house).
As the need to care for an older person grows with age due to dementia and other age-related diseases, care activities limit more greatly the care-giver's ability to work and to take part in social activities. In the long run, the psychological tension and conflicts can be great.
According to OECD report (2011), a family carer's role affects women's work ability and career prospects more negatively than men's.
What can/should the state do to help the people who are the members of the sandwich generation?
The Nordic countries have triumphed in organizing a high-quality child-care system when children are small. There is a comprehensive family leave system consisting of maternity, paternity and parental leave. In contrast, legislation concerning attempts to reconcile care for the older people and work is far less developed.
In Finland, in 2010, law amendment was passed to give an opportunity to an employee to take leave of absence to care for a family member or a close person. The leave can be provided if it is negotiated between the employer and the employee. The leave is unpaid, but the employee can return to work after care-giving needs are fulfilled. The law was put into force in April 2011 and it is yet to be seen how often it will be used by employees. A researcher team (directed by myself) will evaluate the impact of the new law also in terms of its gender implications. Gender impact analyses (GIA) will be made and its implications according to gender will be evaluated.
What can individual employers do in this respect (and why should they be active at all)? What is the situation in present-day Finland concerning the sandwich generation? Are there any company best practices related to its management?
There is much need for tailor-made workplace practices to support and encourage care-givers' work motivation and well-being at work. We have some good workplace examples showing that senior programs designed for employees 55+ can also be used for care-giving activities. One good example is the food manufacturer company Saarioinen where older employees can benefit from a well-administered senior program.