The term “sandwich generation” describes adult children of the elderly who are “sandwiched” between caring for their own children and their aging parents. This group of caregivers are subject to special challenges and stresses yet can also benefit from multi-generational bonds.

Facts about the sandwich generation

Over the past decade, studies on sandwich generation caregivers have increased, with the National Caregiving Alliance (NCA) and Pew Research Center performing regular surveys on caregiving habits. Many eye popping statistics show what makes this hard-working group unique:

  • Sandwich generation caregivers spend an average of 86 minutes less a day on paid work, and nearly half an hour less sleeping.
  • More than one in 10 adults with a child under 18 also care for aging parents, according to a 2017 report on sandwich generation demographics by the Pew Research Center.
  • About 60% of sandwich generation caregivers are women. Male and female caregivers spend about the same amount of time a day caring for their aging parents, but mothers, on average, spend about 45 minutes more daily on child care, regardless of employment status.
  • These caregivers spend approximately three hours a day on unpaid care. Nearly three quarters of them are employed full-time. That’s 21 hours a week of caregiving on top of a 40-hour job.

Many adults spend years as a sandwich generation caregiver, while others experience only a brief overlap.  Long-term sandwich caregiving is becoming more common as the population ages. Increased life expectancy, coupled with financial insecurity, means many seniors require family care.  At the same time, millennials are having children later than their baby boomer and Generation X parents, leading to more multi-generational households.

Multi-generational caregivers juggle competing needs

The sandwich generation has to learn to make hard choices.  A multi-generational caregiver may have to make the decision between their daughter’s first piano recital and an important medical appointment with a parent.  Learning to carefully weigh loved ones’ needs is one of the toughest parts of caregiving.

Despite these difficulties, multi-generational caregiving often leads to close-knit families and strong support systems, according to the NCA. Children raised in sandwich generation households have the benefit of growing up with both parents and grandparents, while elderly relatives are able to enjoy time with their grandchildren.

In multi-generational households, grandparents can help with child care, and later those children can help care for their aging loved ones.

Financial burden of caregiving

Adults caring for both children and older relatives estimate they’ve lost more than $10,000 over their time as caregivers, according to an informal survey by the data research group YouGov. Reduced work hours, increased expenses, and loss of career opportunities all contribute to this statistic.

In addition to this increased economic burden, sandwich generation caregivers often sacrifice their own retirement and savings to help aging relatives, according to the survey. Aging parents’ lack of a retirement nest egg can seriously affect adult children’s own preparations, increasing the likelihood they’ll have to rely on their own children someday.

Sandwich generation emotional and financial toll

Being a multi-generational caregiver is stressful both emotionally and financially. In fact, more than one in three sandwich generation caregivers report significant emotional stress, and one in five report financial stress, according to a report published by the National Alliance of Caregiving (NAC).

Emotional health effects of sandwich generation caregiving

Caring for people with different needs can lead to extreme stress — mothers in the sandwich generation, ages 35-54, exhibit the highest levels of stress of any population demographic, according to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey.

This anxiety is spurred by the constant balancing act of caring for both parents and children, and is complicated by the fact that multi-generational caregiving leaves members of the sandwich generation unable to take time for themselves.

Without time to attend to their own emotional needs, caregivers can develop chronic stress — an exhausting, non-stop version of the body’s fight-or-flight response.  Chronic stress isn’t just emotionally detrimental, it also heightens the risk for developing high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and heart disease.

Tips for sandwich generation stress

To stay healthy and effectively support their loved ones, sandwich generation caregivers need to take time to care for themselves. If you’re suffering from stress, anxiety, or caregiver burnout, take a deep breath, remember that you’re not alone, and consider these tips for managing stress.

Self-care is vital

The effects of caregiving are huge sources of anxiety, and self-care won’t solve everything. Caregiver burnout can’t be fixed with bubble baths and scented candles, but taking time to do the things you love can offer a chance to reflect on your own feelings and interests — and to create a balance between caring for yourself and others.

You don’t have to do everything

Often, adults become consumed by their role as caregiver and leave their own wants and needs by the wayside.  If you feel overextended by everyone’s demands, discuss how your family can make small changes to improve your life.  To learn more about how Elder Home Care can help with your home care needs please visit our website at