Are You Feeling “Sandwiched In”?
The Sandwich Generation. Over the last several years in my work as a financial advisor I’ve observed that an increasing number of my clients are finding themselves caring simultaneously for their children and their elderly parents. Research shows that this phenomenon is fairly widespread — a 2013 Pew Foundation survey found that half of middle-aged American adults have aging parents and are raising a young child or supporting a young adult. This group is collectively known as the Sandwich Generation.
Societal Roots. This “sandwiching in” has its roots in several societal factors. First, Americans are living longer than ever due to better healthcare, nutrition, and medical technology. Second, people are having children later in life, with the average age of American women having their first child reaching a record high at 26 in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Finally, studies have found that, due to a challenging economic environment and record levels of student loan debt, nearly 56% of millennials receive some kind of financial assistance from their parents.
Women as Caregivers. For my clients of the “sandwich generation”, most of the responsibilities of taking care of children and elderly parents tend to fall on the woman of the household. This observation is validated by studies and research. A study by the National Alliance of Caregiving found that 66% of caregivers in US households are women. According to The National Caregivers Library, even when men are involved, “it’s the women who tend to do the most challenging tasks related to caregiving”.
Impacts on Caregivers. Caregivers, mostly women, experience emotional implications of the Sandwich Generation phenomenon. These women feel stressed, burned out, and overwhelmed as they struggle to simultaneously deal with their careers, family, and elder care. They often have to contend with competing priorities regarding the allocation of limited emotional and physical resources. For example, a caregiver may struggle with the decision of whether she attends her daughter’s play or her mother’s doctor’s appointment. All of this stress puts caregivers at higher risk for developing health problems, such as lower immune system functioning and increased depression and anxiety.
Caregivers of the Sandwich Generation also suffer financial consequences. The Pew study found at least 15 percent of this cohort provides financial support to both their parents and their kids. Often this group’s retirement nest egg is put at risk to financially support elderly parents and children. In addition, according to a MetLife study, women lose an average of over $320,000 during their lifetime because they take time off from professional careers and forgo promotions for their caregiving duties.
Surviving and Thriving. Because caregivers love and feel obligated to their children and parents, it can be difficult to balance caring for others with looking after yourself. The most important thing to remember is that you won’t be at your best for others unless you stay healthy by tending to your own physical and emotional needs. Try to get proper rest, nutrition, and exercise, as well as occasional “time off” from caregiving duties so you can refresh and rejuvenate yourself.
Minimize impacts to your financial health by avoiding tapping into your own retirement assets to cover children’s college tuition or your parents’ long term care costs. Instead, consider student loans and ways to stretch parents’ assets. Set clear limits for adult children living at home, encouraging them to work and pay some rent. Also research tax breaks for caregivers and the possibility of participating in your employer’s dependent care flexible spending account.
Reach out to family, friends, and professional service providers that can be there with support and guidance during this challenging life transition. At The Athena Network, we understand the stress you are experiencing and can help you think through decisions related to competing priorities and make sense of your financial options. We are also available to research, vet, and coordinate other professional resources — such as elder care attorneys, eldercare facilities, family counselors, and childcare options – that may prove invaluable to you during this transition. .