In 1981 the term “sandwich generation” was coined to describe a group of Americans who are caring for children under the age of 18 and older relatives at the same time. Today, millions of families are facing the dual challenge of sandwich caregiving as the population ages and Americans are having children later. This episode focuses on these caregivers.
With an aging population and a generation of young adults struggling to achieve financial independence, the burdens and responsibilities of middle-aged Americans are increasing. Nearly half (47%) of adults in their 40s and 50s 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.
Source: Pew Research Center
While the share of middle-aged adults living in the so-called sandwich generation has increased only marginally in recent years, the financial burdens associated with caring for multiple generations of family members are mounting. The increased pressure is coming primarily from grown children rather than aging parents.
According to a new nationwide Pew Research Center survey, roughly half (48%) of adults ages 40 to 59 have provided some financial support to at least one grown child in the past year, with 27% providing the primary support. These shares are up significantly from 2005. By contrast, about one-in-five middle-aged adults (21%) have provided financial support to a parent age 65 or older in the past year, basically unchanged from 2005. The new survey was conducted Nov. 28-Dec. 5, 2012 among 2,511 adults nationwide.
Looking just at adults in their 40s and 50s who have at least one child age 18 or older, fully 73% have provided at least some financial help in the past year to at least one such child. Many are supporting children who are still in school, but a significant share say they are doing so for other reasons. By contrast, among adults that age who have a parent age 65 or older, just 32% provided financial help to a parent in the past year.
While middle-aged adults are devoting more resources to their grown children these days, the survey finds that the public places more value on support for aging parents than on support for grown children. Among all adults, 75% say adults have a responsibility to provide financial assistance to an elderly parent who is in need; only 52% say parents have a similar responsibility to support a grown child.
One likely explanation for the increase in the prevalence of parents providing financial assistance to grown children is that the Great Recession and sluggish recovery have taken a disproportionate toll on young adults. In 2010, the share of young adults who were employed was the lowest it had been since the government started collecting these data in 1948. Moreover, from 2007 to 2011 those young adults who were employed full time experienced a greater drop in average weekly earnings than any other age group.1