An Ever-Expanding Sandwich Generation

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Two new “sandwich generations” are getting into the thick of things: Generation X and Millennials.

Baby boomers first latched onto this label as they juggled caring for their parents and children simultaneously.  With lifespans continuing to increase, the squeeze from parental caregiving is tightening among Gen-X and Millennials.

As baby boomers and their parents get older, all three generations are feeling the financial strain of this familial obligation, which people take on either because “it is what family has always done” or “there was no other option,” according to caregivers’ responses to Northwestern Mutual’s new annual survey of adults between the ages of 18 and 64.

A separate 2017 report, by the Center for Retirement Research, estimated that one in five people will, at some point in their lives, care for their elderly or ailing parents. They spend an average 77 hours per month assisting elderly parents with everything from simple activities like getting out of bed and taking medications to frequently driving them to doctors’ offices.

The largest group in Northwestern’s survey are adult children caring for parents. The other caregivers identified in the survey care for adults under 65 or children who are either ill or have special needs or disabilities – there were no questions in the survey about routine childrearing.

The major findings indicate that parental care has significant financial and lifestyle implications, which disproportionately affect women:

  • More caregivers say they are providing support than are able to afford it comfortably. One-third of active caregivers spend more than 20 percent of their monthly budgets, on average, on prescriptions, medical supplies, food, and other items.
  • Caregiving also impacts work. Women in particular – a daughter is usually a parent’s primary caregiver when one parent dies – earn less and are also more likely to retire, CRR’s study found.
  • One in five in Northwestern Mutual’s survey said they have changed their work schedules or reduced their hours at work to make time for caring for aging parents and disadvantaged children and adults.
  • The cost of caregiving also seems to be more burdensome today: more people this year than last year said they have reduced their own living expenses to cover their parents.

Kamilah Williams-Kemp, a Northwestern mutual vice president, pointed out one problem that is no doubt contributing to the financial weight of caregiving.

“While financial expectations for caregivers continue to grow,” she said, planning for how to pay for it is, unfortunately, “taking a backseat.”

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here.  

1 comment

My husband and I cared for my mother, who lived to be 98, and his mother who died at 88. They both died within a month of each other. While this took a great deal of sacrifice in terms of financial expense and health problems for us, it wasn’t as challenging as caring for his severely disabled brother, after his parents died.

You are right, Kim, the resources available are scarce and mainly geared to low income people. However, the VA can help those who have had military service; this also applies to widows and widowers who qualify within income limits and the County Office on Aging in most municipalities have access to a lot of information about resources that can be helpful.

Mainly, we are left with constant problem solving and worry but there is one thing that remains; of all the people in the world, children have an obligation to their parents. They raised you, cared for you, sacrificed for you and deserve your help. We were never sorry that we gave unstintingly. Only wish we gave even more.

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