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The ‘sandwich generation’ has been conceptualised as those mid-life adults who simultaneously raise dependent children and care for frail elderly parents. Such a combination of dependants is in fact very unusual, and the more common situation is when adults in late mid-life or early old age have one or more surviving parents and adult but still partly dependent children. It can be hypothesised that for parents in this pivotal position, the demands from adult children and from elderly parents compete, with the result that those who provide help to one are less likely to provide help to the other. An alternative hypothesis, however, is that family solidarity has an important influence but is not universal, so that some pivotal-generation parents engage in intergenerational exchange in both directions, and there is a positive association between helping parents and helping children. To investigate this question, the paper presents an analysis of data from two broadly comparable national surveys, in Great Britain and the United States, on the care provided by women aged 55–69 years to their descendent and ascendent relatives. The results show that around one-third of the women reported providing help to members of both generations, and that around one-fifth provided support to neither. They broadly support the solidarity hypothesis, but provide some evidence that having three or more children is associated with a reduced likelihood of providing help to a parent.
Transfers of assistance from older to younger family members are an important, though often ignored, component of intergenerational exchanges. The ability to help younger family members, either financially or practically, may be influenced by the health and socio-economic status of older parents, but very little is known about these patterns. This article examines the effects of socio-economic and health status on the help that late mid-life parents in Britain and the United States give their children with money, domestic tasks, and grandchild care. Results for the different types of family support yield three main findings. First, there are relatively few differences between Britain and the USA in the factors affecting the provision of support. Secondly, socio-economic factors appear to be more important among married respondents while health is more important among the unmarried. Thirdly, children's co-residence has greater effects on the provision of domestic task help in Britain than in the United States.