Year of selection 2017
Institution LIEPP, Paris
The world population is ageing for two main reasons. In industrialized countries in particular, increasing longevity and declining fertility rates are rapidly shifting the age distribution of populations toward older age groups. Population ageing has progressed to such an extent that the supply of formal institutionalized care has become insufficient, making home care more and more indispensable. Moreover, the trend towards later parenting often increases the burden on family carers as they can face both child and elderly care at the same time, with such carers referred to as the ‘sandwich generation’. As part of Dr. Hiroko Umegaki’s long run research interest in middle-aged men as sons, fathers and sons-in-law, her project focuses on the risks that men in the ‘sandwich generation’, in their 30s through to 50s, face as carers of the elderly and of children. « We need to look at how caregiving impacts men in particular and at how they reconcile what is expected of them and their role as care givers » Dr. Hiroko Umegaki reports. Recognizing that research to date has mainly focused on female care givers, Dr. Hiroko Umegaki aims to build knowledge of male family carers. Her objective is to provide a better understanding of men in the sandwich generation, specifically of the risks they face in providing care as fathers and as sons and sons-in-law.
« Japan being a super ageing society, in which 31 % of carers are now men, the issue has long come forward. In that sense, the country is a step ahead of Europe», Dr. Hiroko Umegaki points out. Thus, Japan provides an important context in which to understand male family care givers involved with elderly care. For the sandwich generation, however, such pressures for elderly care occur in a family context with also pressures for child care: issues related to elderly and child care must be recognized as interlinked. In this regard, « France’s development of family policies, which were an important part of addressing declining fertility», represent important reference point for other countries. Thus, an important aspect of Dr. Hiroko Umegaki’s research is comparative, focused on Japan and France, which while challenging often dichotomised views of East and West contexts aims to lead to a better understanding of men as carers across generations in their families and the concomitant risks they face.
Drawing lessons from France and Japan
To conduct her study, Dr. Hiroko Umegaki will develop a comparative understanding based on fieldwork in Paris and Tokyo of middle-aged men involved in elderly and child care. To provide context for each phase of fieldwork, Dr. Hiroko Umegaki explains, she first focuses on understanding the relevant social conditions and policies that affect care provision for her informants. The project’s next step is to conduct fieldwork in Paris to understand carers’ main risks. Then, the research plans to move on to fieldwork in Tokyo, here again, to surface what risks Japanese male caregivers face and how they address them. Particularly, Dr. Hiroko Umegaki will identify relevant everyday care practices, placing middle-aged men as carers in the context of their familial care relations as sons, fathers and sons-in-law.
« Demographically speaking, it is impossible that women be the only family care givers anymore », says Dr. Hiroko Umegaki. « Men are led to contribute now, and so we need a specific analysis of how caregiving impacts them ». By investigating this emerging phenomenon and the risks associated with it, her project contributes to addressing one of today’s most pressing issues. Focusing on influential France and super-aged Japan, her objective is to provide an understanding that can be applied to other industrialised countries. Her findings will help identify ways to prevents risks related to pressing care issues in contemporary societies.