The Sandwich Generation

The term “sandwich generation” has been around for decades, but it began to appear quite often in the mid-to late 1990s and it has become quite a buzzword in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

It now refers to the middle-aged generation known as the baby boomers, those with dependent (or college-aged) children and parents over the age of 70. The numbers and demographics of how many are simultaneously providing support and care to both generations vary depending upon the breadth of the definition of care and support.

As baby boomers face elder care for their parents, they should pay close attention and plan for themselves as well. As they age, they will be presented with the fact that the generation following theirs (the baby-bust generation) produced only 37.4 million births from 1965 to 1976. This significant drop in numbers represents a huge shortage in prime-age work force numbers.

This shortage dramatically affects the health-care industry at a time when it will be most challenged by a growing and aging population in need of, and demanding excellence in, health care. This is something to take heed of as baby boomers learn to care for their aging parents and plan for their own elder-care scenarios.

There are 76 million baby boomers. On January 1, 2006, the oldest of this group turned 60. By 2014, they will range in age from 50 to 68 years old and either be retired or in the planning stages of retirement.

Sandwiched Women

Baby boomers are redefining yet another social aspect as they forge ahead through middle age into the sandwich. Forty-four percent of Americans between the ages of 45 and 56 have aging parents as well as children under the age of 21. In actuality, women are sandwiched more often than men.

Surprisingly, they provide co-residence to aging parents as well as their children in only about 1 percent of the cases. This number increases only slightly to 1.2 percent when the children are away at college. It is a much more common scenario for baby boomers to provide financial support to their college-age children and (the women) to devote 500+ hours of time to the dependent parents or in-laws, according to the National Longitudinal Survey of Young Women conducted from 1968 to 2003.

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the roughly 20 million women in this sandwich generation will transfer $18 billion and devote 2.4 billion hours of their time to their children and their elder parents each year.

In a 1990 article, Newsweek reported that the average American woman will spend 17 years raising children and 18 years helping her aging parents or in-laws.

As all of the generations age, the sandwich can grow to include a fourth generation, that of grandchildren to the middle-aged caregivers who may also find themselves devoting time as well as financial aide to care for and support the grandchildren.

Challenges for the Sandwich Generation

The sandwich generation has three basic challenges to deal with and try to find balance with in their lives:

  • Raising their children and being part of their lives

  • Assisting their aging parents and in-laws

  • Maintaining their own identity; leading their own lives and careers

Having time to enjoy their lives and the financial ability to do so can be dramatically affected by care-giving needs. Keeping the negative effects and stress level to a minimum will take a lot of planning and organization. Learning to ask for help when needed and knowing where to find it is imperative. Knowing and respecting one's own limitations is essential.

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