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Increased retirement age puts pressure on 'sandwich generation'

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A new study from LSE has found that raising the retirement age is likely to put pressure on middle-aged people with caring responsibilities.

The study, published in Research on Aging, analysed the ‘sandwich generation’— older people between the ages of 50 and 69 who are most likely to have the combined pressures of extended working lives and caring for grandchildren, spouses and elderly parents.

Co-authors Dr Giorgio Di Gessa and Professor Emily Grundy of LSE Social Policy analysed the likelihood of older people combining participation in the labour market with caring responsibilities and participation in the voluntary sector. In their comparison, the authors analysed four countries with differing family care cultures and retirement and labour market policies: England, Denmark, France and Italy. For instance, older people in Italy play an important role as providers of family care, while levels of participation in the labour market for older people varies considerably across countries, ranging from 54 per cent of respondents in Denmark to 25 per cent in Italy.

In all four countries in the study the study identified a negative relationship between paid work and engagement in other activities, such as volunteering and caring, with older people in paid work were less likely to be active in other activities. However, among elderly people who stopped working, French and Danes were more likely to become active in volunteering, while English and Italians were more likely to provide care.

The study’s findings supports the growing body of research indicating that a lack of flexibility for employees could be particularly difficult for people in their 50s and 60s. This is due to the likelihood of their personal responsibilities increasing during this period of their life.

One of the paper’s co-authors, Dr Di Gessa, said: “Alongside an increasing recognition and or expectation that older people should engage with the wider society through activities such as volunteering and informal caregiving, there is also an increasing pressure that they extend their working lives. Our analysis suggests that it is unlikely that older people are able to combine and engage with all these activities now expected of them by society.

“It is still not clear whether people who have to stay in paid work for longer find it harder to take up new activities when they do eventually retire, in comparison to those leaving the labour market earlier. If this is the case, there might also be longer term implications for the health and well-being of these groups as they age.

“This analysis means that recent reforms to extend people’s working lives might have serious implications for older people, as these policies may constrain opportunities for participation in a range of activities, including volunteering and informal caregiving. Flexible working could be one way to help people in early old age balance work and other forms of engagement and responsibilities.”

For more information

Peter Carrol, LSE Media Relations, telephone: + 44 (0)207 955 6939, email: p.carrol@lse.ac.uk

Notes to editors

The dynamics of paid and unpaid activities among people aged 50-69 in Denmark, France, Italy, and England by Dr Giorgio Di Gessa and Professor Emily Grundy (2016) was published in Research on Aging.

The data used in the study is drawn from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). A total of 12,440 individuals were successfully interviewed combining both data sets together. Both datasets provide information on health, socio-economic status and social and family networks of individual aged 50 and older.

Dr Giorgio Di Gessa is a LSE Fellow in Population Health and Global Ageing in the Department of Social Policy at LSE.

Professor Emily Grundy is a Professor of Demography in the Department of Social Policy at LSE.

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