To work or not, that is the question

WORKERS in their 50s and 60s are finding it harder than ever to balance their jobs with looking after family members according to a recently published report.

By Nick Richards

WORKERS in their 50s and 60s are finding it harder than ever to balance their jobs with looking after family members according to a recently published report.

NICK RICHARDS looks at the difficulties of juggling those last dozen working years with the ever-increasing demands of modern life.

WHEN 55-year old David Bowie played a recent London show, performing a selection of classic hit singles was not the only thing on his mind.

In his own inimitable style, he used a hand-held video camera to capture parts of the show for his two-year-old daughter Alexandria back home with his wife Iman in New York.

While Bowie's own way of sharing his working life with his daughter is fine for him, it would prove impractical for other fifty and sixty-somethings to record their working day ready for playback to their kids.

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Rather than show themselves on film, an increasing number of people are spending more real time looking after family members, while holding down full-time jobs.

Parents in their 50s like Bowie with children under five are rare, but people of his age with grandchildren are not.

And just like Bowie, they are faced with a difficult balance. On the one hand is working out the last years of a career in order to gain important financial security in later life. On the other is the desire to spend more time with grandchildren.

Of course it is unlikely David Bowie is facing financial insecurity, but his fatherly devotion while at work illustrates the point and shows that it's not easy combining both.

And there is a similar problem balancing work and looking after elderly parents for people in their 50s and 60s.

Older workers are likely to face increasing difficulties with their own "work-life balance", said the report funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

They are described in the report as a "pivot generation" who combined a job with caring for family members.

Like Bowie, actor David Jason has recently become a father in his later years. His recent real life addition is similar to one of his most famous TV roles in Only Fools and Horses involved him caring for both his son, brother, grandfather and uncle who shared his Peckham flat.

Pressure for people in their 50s and 60s to stay in paid work is likely to mean that fewer grandparents are available in future to help working daughters and sons look after their children.

The study highlights the declining number of young people in the population, confirmed by recently released census figures, and other trends that are persuading employers to retain older staff, especially women, in the workforce

Yet this same age group face growing demands on their time to care for other family members.

June Statham, co-author of the report, said: "Staff over 50 can increasingly expect to find themselves pressurised between employers who want them to stay on, working longer hours, and growing pressure to care informally for grandchildren, their own elderly parents, or both.

"Without more resources to support carers, both in and out of work, their contribution may not be sustainable."

The report, which surveyed more than 1,000 over-50s, found two-thirds are in paid employment, while six out of ten 50-year-olds have living parents and a third have grandchildren.

As many as one in three looked after an elderly relative or friend, one in six provided care for a grandchild and one in ten did both.

Few of the employees interviewed wanted to give up their jobs in order to take on caring responsibilities but some grandparents were prepared to give up work or reduce their hours to look

after their grandchildren.

Many said their caring roles gave them a sense of satisfaction but almost half said it had made their life more stressful and a third said it left them with less time for their family and themselves.

Ann Mooney, co-author of the report, added: "A number of the people we interviewed clearly felt their opportunities for training and promotion had been restricted by their responsibilities as carers.

"Employees over 50 were also well aware that giving up working time to provide informal care would affect their pension entitlements, as well as costing them short-term income. Yet the main price of care was perceived in terms of lost personal time and poor health rather than money."

Gordon Lishman, the director general of Age Concern England, said: "Age Concern research shows that grandparents provide informal childcare worth at least £26 million to the UK economy.

"While many older people enjoy caring for grandchildren, others may wish, or need to, continue formal employment; or may regard their later life as a time to pursue leisure interests or learning opportunities.

"We believe older people should have a choice as to how they spend later life and retirement, whether that be working, or caring for grandchildren."

n What do you think? Is it hard for working people in their 50s and 60s to hold down a regular job yet still find time to look after grandchildren or elderly parents. Or is it simply an unwritten rule that people of this age should be expected find time to look after their family members?

Write to us at Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN. Or e-mail:


SINCE becoming a father for the first time in April 2001 with the birth of daughter Sophie, actor David Jason has devoted more time to looking after her.

Jason, 62, famous for his roles as Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses and Jack Frost in A Touch Of Frost said at the time of Sophie's birth that this would mean less acting work for him.

He said he would be enjoying his first time as a dad by looking after his daughter with his partner and not employing a nanny.

David Bowie spoke candidly to Michael Parkinson in a recent television interview about the joys of fatherhood and said the birth of his daughter had changed his life.

He told the chat-show host that it would mean devoting more time to his family and he would be playing less tour dates.

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