The Sandwich Generation -- Feeling the Squeeze

by Mary Keen

If you provide care to both your aging parents as well as your children, then you are part of the Sandwich Generation. That is, you are “sandwiched” between your parents and kids, and they both require your care. There are enough of you (66 million Americans) that advertisers avidly market to your generation. The month of July has even been named Sandwich Generation Month.

According to AARP, the term Sandwich Generation, now found in dictionaries, was coined in 2006 by an aging expert. The two types of Sandwichers* are:

Those sandwiched between aging parents—who need care or help—and their own children who need the same.

Club Sandwich (two types):
—Those in their 50s or 60s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren.
—Those in their 30s and 40s with young children, aging parents and grandparents.

Until recently, whether a Traditional Sandwicher or a Club Sandwicher, caregivers in these groups often performed their duties “under the radar.” By this we mean that because care is confined to family members in the home, they might not seek outside help. This makes them less visible to outsiders and more difficult to quantify. But the Pew Research Center sought out the Sandwichers and came up with this profile.** They are:

  • Mostly middle-aged with 71% aged 40 to 59.
  • Both men and women.
  • More affluent (household incomes of over $100,000).
  • Over a third married.

What statistics don’t show are the challenges that being a Sandwicher can impose on your home life, career, finances and overall well-being. According to Your Eldercare Consultants’ Joan Ente, “When elder caregiving, parenting, and career concerns coincide, the strains can be enormous—a “perfect storm” of stress. The sandwiched care providers in their 30s and 40s are still engaged in their careers and child rearing and thus are juggling many balls in the air simultaneously. Others, who are in their 50s and 60s, perhaps finally planning for more relaxation and travel as their children are grown, find they must take on the reversed role of taking care of their parents.” There are often financial repercussions, and the caregiver’s whole family feels the sandwich effect: one third of caregivers report spending less time with their spouses and children.

Avoiding Sandwich Generation problems can be a challenge, but here are some tips that can help:

  • Assess the situation—As early as possible, talk honestly with your parents about their finances  and their ability to pay for their long term care needs. Talking to them about their wishes as they age will be an important factor to consider. It may be helpful to seek the guidance of a geriatric care manager or a financial planner as your family enters into these discussions.
  • Plan ahead—Develop a plan for yourself that incorporates anticipated expenses for your parents if there is an expectation that you contribute financially to your parents’ care. As you plan for your own future financial needs, are there opportunities for scholarships or financial aid to help defray the costs of your children’s college tuition? Is purchasing long term care insurance a viable solution or meeting your own future health care needs?
  • Put yourself first—Do not put your own needs after those of your parents or children. Just as on an airplane, when parents are instructed to put on their own oxygen masks before tending to their children, Sandwichers must keep themselves healthy and whole so that they can provide the necessary care. A Sandwicher is not much good for others if he or she is not well.

With all the stress and strain of caregiving the Sandwich Generation experiences, Ente will admit “It is not easy to care for an aging parent.” However, she continues, “the experience is not without its share of joys and blessings”


*AARP Florida, June 28, 2012
** Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends. January 30, 2013