Legal-Ease: An Attorney’s Perspective: The Sandwich Generation: When Motherhood and Caregiving Collide

May 4, 2018 • Columnists, Legal-Ease

Staci Yamashita-Iida

By Staci Yamashita-Iida, Esq.

Last March, Craig Ishii, executive director of the nonprofit organization Kizuna, forwarded me an email titled “Applications Open for the 2017 TOMODACHI Emerging Leaders Program.” The body of the email displayed one simple sentence: “I think you should consider this.” Little did I know that this message would be the catalyst for one of the most valuable professional and personal experiences I’ve ever had.

After being selected for the program, I traveled to Washington, D.C., in November of last year to attend the 2017 U.S.-Japan Council Annual Conference. The organization, which seeks to promote and strengthen U.S.-Japan relations, holds the yearly gathering in an effort to bring together hundreds of business professionals and community leaders to discuss prominent issues that affect both countries.

As an elder law attorney, I was particularly drawn to one of the conference sessions that focused on the way Japan’s aging population shapes its health-care system and, as a byproduct, results in a plummeting number of women in the workforce.

The panelist expert on this topic was Scott Sato, chief operating officer of Pasona Group, Inc., a Japanese company dealing with employment and staffing solutions. Mr. Sato has granted me permission to share some of his findings in this article.

In Japan, the traditional role of a woman was a shufu, or housewife. Modernly, however, women are pursuing higher levels of education and focusing on their careers. Consequently, women are getting married and having children later and later in life.

This creates a unique problem. At that stage, women are also expected to care for their aging parents. Japan is widely regarded as one of the oldest societies in the world — not just historically, but in terms of population as well. There are approximately 33 million seniors living in Japan, and that number continues to steadily increase.

This intersection of childcare and eldercare has compelled hundreds of thousands of Japanese women to engage in the socioeconomic phenomenon called “double care.” Double care refers to the dual responsibility of raising one’s children and being a caretaker for one’s elderly parents at the same time.

Sadly, the duties of double care have had a drastic impact on the number of women in the workforce. For many, the demands and time constraints of double care force women to switch to part-time (and lower-paying) employment. Many quit their jobs altogether. The progress achieved by women in the work place has taken three steps backward.

The root of the issue seems to be Japan’s aging demographic. It is estimated that approximately 21 percent of the population will be over the age of 65 by the year 2025. By the same year, one out of 15 individuals will suffer from dementia. That leaves about 5.4 jobs open in Tokyo to every one person who needs nursing care.

So, how does Japan plan on combatting the issue? First, the government is working on bringing in “technical interns” to assist with day-to-day activities such as house cleaning and basic care. These foreigners would come to Japan on a special type of training visa and learn the cultural customs and practices of the Japanese people. For example, the “interns” would learn to remove their shoes before entering a home. That way, Japanese women will feel more comfortable hiring additional help, and the stress of keeping the home clean will be relieved.

Second, in addition to promoting child daycare, Japan is working on implementing adult daycare options as well. Large companies would have adult daycare facilities on their premises. That way, daughters can “visit” their parents during breaks and have lunch together. This would allow children to maintain their occupations while still ensuring that their parents are taken care of.

Hopefully, the steps Japan is taking to actively decrease the problems of double care will prove to be successful. In the meantime, similar actions must be taken here in the United States.

While double care is the term used to describe the actions of the women in Japan, here in the U.S., the women who assume dual motherhood and caregiver responsibilities are referred to as the “Sandwich Generation.”

Like Japan, the U.S. is faced with an aging population. About 10,000 people turn 65 each and every day. Also like Japan, women are a force to be reckoned with in the workplace. Female executives are more and more common nowadays, which leads to many giving birth in their late 30s and early 40s.

In additional to the physical burdens of experiencing the Sandwich Generation, women in the U.S. shoulder a financial obligation as well. Many members of the so-called “millennial” generation struggle to achieve financial independence. Student loans, the competitiveness of jobs and an exorbitantly high cost of rent have driven many young adults to live at home until their 20s or 30s.

This phenomenon seems to be especially prevalent in the Japanese American community, where parents graciously allow their children to remain at home long past 18. And while there are many positives to this type of arrangement, difficulties arise when parents are expected to financially support their adult children while aging simultaneously.

So, where does this leave us? Although in its infancy, the problems incurred by the Sandwich Generation are sure to remain on trend. If the U.S. models itself after Japan and seeks alternative actions, perhaps it will help alleviate the burdens endured by the Sandwich Generation. Women have already proved to be devoted mothers and loving daughters – what they need now is the opportunity to be empowered businesswomen as well.

(Statistics and concepts provided courtesy of Scott Sato, COO of Pasona Group, Inc.)

Staci Yamashita-Iida, Esq. is an estate planning attorney at Elder Law Services of California. She can be contacted at (310) 348-2995 or staci@elderlawcalifornia.com. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Pacific Citizen. The information presented does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such.

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