The "sandwich" generation

by the Editor, SeniorInsider | Jun 02, 2011

If you ask a teenager if he knows what the sandwich generation is, you could possibly get an answer somehow related to sandwiches of one variety or another. While he might have a point, that is not the same sandwich generation that is so commonly discussed today.

What is the Sandwich Generation?

The description of “the sandwich generation” is what is used to describe those people who are caring for both their parents and their children at the same time. It is becoming quite a frequent situation that many adults of this generation are finding themselves caught in.

If you are between the ages of 35 and 60 and have children, there is a good chance that you could end up becoming a member of the sandwich generation. This happens when your parents are still living and need some sort of care that you must provide. However, at the same time, you are trying to raise and support your children.

How Large is the Sandwich Generation?

It is hard to say just how large the sandwich generation really is today. According to estimates from the Pew Research Center, at least one out of every eight Americans between the ages of 40 and 60 years of age is caring for an aging parent while also raising their own children.

It is estimated that this group of caregivers will only get larger as more people live longer. The U.S. Census Bureau statistics indicate that the number of Americans aged 65 or older will double by the year 2030. If this happens, there would be more than 70 million seniors, and an increasing number of them could need care and assistance from their children. This could dramatically increase the number of adults caught in the sandwich generation.

Various Styles of the Sandwich Generation

As more seniors need care in their later years, it has become more common for much of that care to be provided by a family member. More often than not, the family member is one or more of the senior’s children. This was the start of the so-called sandwich generation, as many of these children of seniors were raising their own children.

Carol Abaya wrote a book on the subject, and categorized a variety of scenarios within the definition of this growing generation of caregivers. Her definitions include:

  • The Traditional – includes those adults sandwiched between their aging parents who need assistance and their own children who they are either still raising, or are supporting in some way.
  • The Club – includes those adults in their 50s and 60s who are sandwiched between their aging parents, adult children and grandchildren. The other scenario is the younger adults in their 30s and 40s who have young children and are also caring for aging parents or grandparents.
  • The Open Faced – includes any adult involved in caring for an elderly person. This includes those adults who never had children, but find themselves caring for their aging parents or grandparents. In this scenario, the adult is not caught between two generations, but is still involved in caring for a senior family member.

The Typical Caregiver

The typical American sandwich generation caregiver is a woman in her mid-40s. She is married, has a job, and cares for her family as well as offers elder care to at least one of her parents. In most cases, that parent is her mother.

However, with the ever-increasing size of the sandwich generation, just about anyone can find themselves as a caregiver. In fact, there are statistics showing that an increasing number of men are becoming the primary caregivers of an aging parent.

Over time, as the population continues to age and demographics change, it is likely that there will no longer be a “typical” caregiver who is a member of the sandwich generation. All that is likely to happen is that the size of the sandwich generation will continue to grow. In fact, it is large enough today that there is a month dedicated to bringing awareness to this group of people. In the United States, July has been designated as Sandwich Generation Month to commemorate and celebrate all those who so patiently care for their multi-generational families.



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