Academic journal article Social Policy Journal of New Zealand

Constraints of Multi-Generational Support for Those in Mid-Life-An Emerging Policy Issue?

Academic journal article Social Policy Journal of New Zealand

Constraints of Multi-Generational Support for Those in Mid-Life-An Emerging Policy Issue?

Article excerpt


The combined effects of an ageing population structure and shifts in the timing of family formation mean that some kin members will increasingly be providing help to an ageing parent, while also supporting their own children. As a pivotal group in multiple generation families, those in mid-life may well find themselves at the centre of these potentially competing needs. This paper examines the types of help individuals in mid-life provide to an older parent and an adult child living in separate households. Findings show that they channel more support towards an adult child than to a parent, children receiving predominantly financial help, an older parent help with daily tasks. Both generations are given emotional support. Multivariate logistic regression results show that providing help to their own child increases the likelihood that the mid-lifer will also provide support to an ageing parent. From a policy perspective, these results suggest the need to reconsider the relevance of the household and shared residence as defining criteria for identifying "family", and as a basis for assessing need.


Improvements in life expectancies and declining fertility have resulted in the ageing of New Zealand's population structure. As a result, kin members may increasingly have to offer help or care to elders, while at the same time providing assistance to their own offspring who are beginning their transition from adolescence to adulthood. Concern has been expressed that the responsibility for providing such multi-generational support will fall heavily on people in mid-life. As a consequence, they may compromise their own needs for pre-retirement provisions, or their physical and emotional well-being in later life (Boland et al. 1997, Bengtson et al. 1995, Brett 1997, Koopman-Boyden et al. 2000, Statistics New Zealand 1998b, Koopman-Boyden 1978). For policy makers it is important to establish whether the mid-life period is likely to be characterised by intensified calls for multi-generational support that the mid-life individual may not be able to deal with in isolation from a broader social system of public or private support.

The reasons why the mid-life period has become a focus for multi-generational transactions are complex. Delays in the onset of family formation (Pool et al. 1998) mean that, increasingly, parents are likely to have direct responsibility for dependent children throughout the midlife period, a phase of the family life course normally associated with the transition of young adults to independence and the preparation of pre-retirement for their parents (Sceats 1988, Murphy and Grundy 1995). Improvements to life expectancy also increase the likelihood that a mid-life parent will be part of a three-generational kinship structure, with perhaps several co-surviving ageing parents or in-laws also needing their support.

Other economic changes that have influenced policy orientations with regard to family needs may have intensified the pressures placed on mid-life individuals to respond to the needs of younger and older generations (Sceats 1992). Difficulties experienced by young adults in finding employment (2) (Statistics New Zealand 2001), or increasing costs of tertiary education training (Education (Student Allowances) Notice, New Zealand Regulations 1997/5) have fueled concerns that parents themselves will have to alleviate risks of youth marginalisation, by providing financial assistance or other types of support.

Furthermore, the policy drive to encourage self-sufficiency as a way of reducing reliance on collective and state-managed resources (Upton 1991, Department of Social Welfare 1996, Cox 1998) has involved a move towards situating the care and support for dependants--particularly the elderly--away from the institutional environment towards the informal communities of family, friends and volunteers (Opie 1992). This shift has been of particular concern in New Zealand because of the implicit expectation that women with ageing dependants will assume the brunt of their care requirements at a time when they themselves are likely to be engaged in multiple roles of parent, spouse and paid employee (McPherson 1993, Age Concern New Zealand 1992, Ministry of Women's Affairs 1993). …

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