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The 'bean pole' family

View profile for Peter Mills
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The bean pole family

We are long term and active supporters of the ‘Ageing Without Children’ (AWOC) initiative and would encourage those with an interest in this to visit www.awoc.org where there is lots of helpful information about the number and diversity of those planning for the future without immediate family, contact details for the various local groups (including one in York) and background on AWOC’s efforts to encourage policy-makers to acknowledge and support those ageing without children.

An interesting aspect highlighted on the AWOC website is the emergence of the ‘bean pole’ family – families where there are more generations with living members but fewer members in each generation. This is the inevitable consequence of three long term trends: firstly, that average age of mothers when their first child is born has been rising; secondly, the average number of children per mother has been falling and thirdly, people are generally living longer.

All this matters because the traditional assumption that you have children close by you can and are able to provide practical support in your old age is likely to be true in fewer and fewer cases. The practical care arrangements in a ‘bean pole’ family are more vulnerable to issues such as children and parents living some distance from each other or to the consequences of divorce (amongst parents or their adult children) or to family rifts.

Furthermore, where adult children are able to provide support, they are often still looking after their own children. This ‘sandwich’ generation are pulled in two directions at once; if they are in employment, they are actually pulled three ways at once. AWOC have been instrumental in bringing these issues to the Government’s attention. For our part, we work closely with individuals to help them put in place legal arrangements that ensures sensible plans ready as and when care needs arise – whether they are members of a ‘bean pole’ family or otherwise.