The Sandwich Generation may Have too Much to Digest

We wonder how common it is for would-be parents ever to consider that one day they might be stuck having to support three generations of family.

            One in six Americans is now living in a multi-generational household consisting of adult children, parents and grandparents. The “sandwich generation,” those in their 40s or 50s, is the one that bears the greatest responsibility for junior and senior family members who live under their roofs.

            Children may be more in need of financial assistance than their grandparents, according to Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends.  When looking at all the adults  their survey with at least one child age 18 or older, nearly 63 percent say they have provided some support to their child in the last twelve months. This burden is heaviest for middle-aged adults, ages 40 to 59. Of the parents in this age range who have a child 18 or older, 73 percent have provided financial help to at least one grown child. To add to this parental load, 42 percent of these parents provided primary support to a grown child in 2012, compared to 2005, when a mere one-third of moms and dads in the same age range were providing primary support to a grown child.

Three generations

Sandwich generation. Photo: University of Michigan Depression Center

            Among parents who provide primary support for their grown child, more than half report that they are doing so because their child is enrolled in school. Almost half say they are supporting their child for other reasons.

            Only about 8 percent of all adults carry the financial burden for both an aging parent and a grown child. Again, the heaviest burden in this scenario falls onto the shoulders of the sandwich generation.  About 15 percent are supporting an aging parent, as well as raising a minor offspring or supporting a grown child.

            The burden of emotional support also hits many adults in their 40s and 50s. According to the Pew Research Center, among those who are responsible for both children and aging parents, “78% say that their grown children rely on them ‘frequently’ or ‘sometimes’ for emotional support, while 65% say the same about their aging parents.”

            Although the Pew Center statistics do not define what is meant by “emotional support,” we can speculate that middle-aged parents might be an encouraging force for their children in life endeavors, as well as provide an ear for the problems of their 18-year or older offspring. Some parents may even have to deal with an offspring’s moderate-to-severe mental health issues.

            So, what is the significance of these findings? What strikes us is the impact on parents who bring children into this world. Parents with babies tend to view their commitment to their child as lasting until the children have completed their education and are forging ahead with their careers. But, as Pew Research points out, such is frequently not the case. These days, thousands of middle-aged parents who are in the life stage of hoping for and planning their own retirements, are saddled with not only their own parents’ financial and emotional needs, but their progenies’ as well. Many a parent’s job of raising offspring might never be complete. In view of this, thinking twice about having children is an important part of the decision-making process whose time has without a doubt come.







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