The Sandwich Generation – an Overview

Who They Are

You probably have heard the term “Sandwich Generation”; maybe you are a part of this group. If you aren’t a part of this group, you may be curious about who they are. The term “Sandwich Generation” was originally coined by social worker Dorothy Miller in 1981. She was describing women in their 30’s to 40’s who at the same time were primary caregivers to their young children and aging parents “sandwiched” between the two just like a slice of cheese on a sandwich. As times and culture changed, so has the Sandwich Generation – women started having children later, seniors now are living to older ages, children are growing up needing continued care; thus, today’s “Sandwich Generation” is made up largely of women predominantly between 40-65 years old, and men are actively involved in the caregiving too.



Nearly half (47%) of adults in their 40’s and 50’s have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child (age 18 or older). And about one-in-seven middle-aged adults (15%) is providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child.

On average, adults in the Sandwich Generation are spending approximately $10,000 and 1,350 hours on their parents and children combined per year. Typically, children require more money and “capital-intensive” care, while aging adults require more time and labor-intensive care.

Pierret, C. R. The sandwich generation: women caring for parents and children

Becoming part of the Sandwich Generation can put a huge financial burden on families. On average, 48% of adults are providing some sort of financial support to their grown children, while 27% are their primary support. Additionally, 25% are financially supporting their parents as well.

Parker, K., & Patten, E. The Sandwich Generation rising financial burdens for middle-aged Americans

Some of the adults living in this sandwiched generation face financial problems regularly, having to support three generations at one time: their parents, their immediate family (self and spouse) and children.

Parker, K., & Patten, E. The Sandwich Generation rising financial burdens for middle-aged Americans


Taking care of an aging parent while still raising or supporting one’s own children presents certain challenges to the Sandwich Caregiver that are not faced by other adults. Needless to say, every situation is different depending on the medical condition and needs of the parent, on the age of the children (are they still in school or college or starting a first job, etc), the health condition of the children (considering the chronic health conditions impacting our children in numbers not seen before), the financial resources of the care recipient, the financial resources of the caregiver, marital status of caregiver, support network of caregiver, and many more. But some experiences, responsibilities, and challenges are uniquely shared by those wedged in caregiving between their children and parents.

Two of the most challenging of these unique circumstances are,


Sandwich Generation adults mostly share their time between their children and their parents, leaving them with less time overall than a caregiver responsible for only either parents or children. This, more often than not, makes the Sandwich Caregiver feel rushed in executing their responsibilities and they may find themselves not even having the time to do all that is necessary on any given day for either their parents or their children, or both. Time for oneself can very quickly become an afterthought, an elusive luxury, although, to ensure the caregiver’s own health, taking time for oneself is paramount.

The lack of time can not only cause a tremendous amount of stress on the caregiver, and impact their own health, it can also lead to potentially dangerous care situations. If rushed for time, medications may be forgotten, or given at incorrect times, or in wrong doses; diapers (adult as well as babies) may not get changed in a timely fashion and cause rashes; and very commonly, emotional needs of parents or children may not be met and lead to depression; and more.


The Sandwich Caregiver may find themselves financially supporting not only their children, underage or adult, but their own parents as well. This can take a financial toll on their own finances, present and future; and it most certainly will be very stressful if they have an average income or less.

Their parents may not have enough assets of their own to cover their financial needs, especially if their health or medical conditions require costly medications or treatments. While Medicare, Medicaid, and other insurance coverages do exist, they may not cover all expenses in full or at all; and/or their parents may not have planned properly for their future financial needs. So, now the Sandwich Caregiver may find themselves in the situation to either support their parents financially, or, what is the alternative? I want to take the opportunity here, to encourage you to do early financial planning for your retirement. This is extremely important.

The Sandwich Caregiver is also still financially responsible for your children – clothing, schooling, activities, savings for college they all add up. If their child has a special circumstance, like a disability or a chronic health condition, they may already incur higher expenses than other families.

The Sandwich Caregiver could also still be financially supporting an adult child. Their child may go to college and rely on their financial contribution; or their child may have started their first job, and their first income is not sufficient enough to pay for all their expenses yet.

If there is just enough money, or worse, not enough money to go around and cover all the different needs, the Sandwich Caregiver will have to set priorities. Most likely it won’t be easy but rather stressful weighing the needs of their parents versus their own children. There is no right or wrong answer on how to do this other than not to touch their own retirement investments if possible! If you do, there may be tax penalties or other ramifications as a result. The Sandwich Caregiver will need these funds for themselves in the future. Generally speaking, determining the best choice on how to allocate finances will depend on particular circumstances, emotional relationships, imminent needs, etc. If they haven’t done any research as of yet, they may find that there are resources they have not considered, scholarships or loans for their students; a local college, so their students can live at home; their parents may have served in the military and they may be eligible for veterans’ benefits; their parents could live with them, or the Sandwich Caregiver could move in with their parents; etc.

In Summary

By no means is the above a comprehensive overview. As I said before, each situation is unique. The above is meant to give a general idea of the shared challenges of the Sandwich Caregiver, create awareness, and encourage the reader to plan ahead of time if they are not part of this group yet but may be in the future.



Parker, K., & Patten, E. (2013). Pew Research Center. The Sandwich Generation rising financial burdens for middle-aged Americans

Pierret, C. R. (2006, September). Monthly Labor Review. The sandwich generation: women caring for parents and children


On another note we at NShore Patient Advocates would like to share some of our latest news with you… The Patient Advocacy Symposium is back, but bigger, better, and brighter than ever before! It has evolved into the International Conference on Patient Advocacy (ICOPA), and will be held right here in Northfield, IL on October 3rd-5th, 2019! We hope you will join us! Please see below for a link with more information:

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