The Sandwich Generation is a Balancing Act

Parents who are in the season of life where they are raising their children often spend lots of time in auditoriums and stadiums. Many of them also have parents who are aging and need help. In fact, if parents were to gaze around the rows of seating, they might be surprised to learn that about one out of eight of the other parents around them aged 40 to 60 is caring for at least one aging parent, in addition to caring for their minor children.

Different Types of Eldercare Sandwiches

What is the sandwich generation? The term sandwich generation accurately describes adults who simultaneously care for their children and parents at the same time. Carol Abaya, who is a nationally recognized expert on the sandwich generation, more narrowly answers the question, “What is the sandwich generation?” Carol went beyond the Traditional sandwich generation definition and dubbed anyone who is involved in eldercare as the Open-faced Sandwich. For parents between 50 and 60 who are sandwiched between aging parents, children and grandchildren or those who are between 30 and 40 and have young children, aging parents, and grandparents, Carol calls the Club Sandwich. [i]

Fast Sandwich Generation Facts

The Pew Research Center also tells us some sandwich generation facts including that most of the sandwich generation were baby boomers until 2005. As of 2014, the baby boomers became grandparents and started transitioning into the aging population, while their children took their places and moved into the sandwich generation.

We can look to the National Alliance for Caregiving for some additional information on the sandwich generation. They joined research partners with the AARP Public Policy Institute and developed the 2015 Caregiving in the US Report. The report identified that 44% of people aged 44-55 have at least one parent still living and at least one child that is under the age of 21. [ii]

The Sandwich Generation Infographic

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Women Provide Care Most Often

Our society has long viewed women as the primary caregivers for children and parents, so it’s not surprising that the Caregiving in the US Report showed that about 66% of all senior caregivers are women. Perhaps it is a little more surprising that the report showed that more men are stepping up to be caregivers in recent years.

Sandwich Generation Feels a Financial Burden

The Pew Report also showed some interesting sandwich generation facts about the financial difficulties that face the sandwich generation. About 47% of sandwich caregivers between the ages of 40 and 50 have a parent over the age of retirement and are also supporting children who are over the minority age. About 15% of people in their middle ages are financially supporting their parents and their children.

Sandwich Generation Facts Show Caregivers are Relatively Content

The Pew Report also looked at how happy the sandwich generation is. Approximately 31% of the respondents described themselves as very happy in their role as a sandwich caregiver, and approximately 52% of respondents said they were pretty happy. Many adults who provide care for their elderly parents stated that they felt a deeper, more intimate relationship with their parents, especially when their parents expressed appreciation for the help.

Hispanics Take the Lead in Being Sandwich Caregivers

The Pew report showed that the Hispanic population in the U.S. took a clear lead in sandwich caregiving as compared with whites and African-Americans. About 21% of Hispanics care for their parents and children at the same time, and most were women. Sandwich caregivers in the African-American population ranked next, with about 8% caring for parents and children. Research shows that white Americans trail Hispanics and African-Americans with only 5% of them stating that they care for their parents and children.

Sandwich Caregiving is Highly Stressful

With the trend towards aging in place rather than seniors transitioning to an assisted living or nursing care center, the numbers of senior caregivers are rising to meet the need. Because of the high levels of sandwich generation stress that accompany the role of senior caregiving, our society is wisely placing greater emphasis on caring for the caregiver.  

The sandwich generation stress of senior caregiving stresses some of the caregiver’s bodily systems causing problems with high blood pressure, elevated insulin, heart problems, and weakened immunities.

It stands to reason that if career senior caregivers experience negative health issues, risking caregiver burnout that sandwich caregivers are at even greater risk of having increased health problems caused by sandwich generation stress. In addition to caring for elderly parents and children, sandwich generation caregivers are also holding down jobs and managing their own households. Adults who take care of their parents in another household and their children in their own households often experience financial stress, personal stress, and emotional stress. [iii]

The recent economic downturn has caused women homemakers to get jobs or return to work to replace the lost income from their spouse’s jobs. Since women make up the largest percentages of senior caregivers, women who find themselves sandwiched between elderly parents and caring for their children are getting more than their fair share of sandwich generation stress. Studies have shown that 20% of female caregivers over the age of 50 experience symptoms of depression. Only 8% of their non-caregiving peers experience depression. [iv]

Respite Care Rescues the Sandwich Generation

Because of the stress of doing dual-duty with caregiving, it’s prudent for sandwich caregivers to add respite care to their personal caregiving duties. Respite care gives family caregivers a welcome break from the worry and stress of their caregiving duties.

Fortunately, senior caregivers have several options when it comes to respite care. An alternate respite caregiver can go directly to the senior’s home to provide care. The family caregiver can also take their parent to a nursing or assisted living center for anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks to get a break. Nursing facilities provide snacks, activities, and light medical care. Family members can return from a break or short vacation knowing that their parents are well-taken care of.

Family members may also seek respite care when transitioning their parents to an assisted living or nursing care center permanently so that the senior has time to adjust. Seniors most often need part-time or full-time care after a crisis or hospitalization, so many sandwich caregivers find that nursing homes can help with short-term rehabilitation, which gives them a break.

Tax Advantages for Sandwich Generation Caregivers

Caregivers from the sandwich generation are wise to consult with a tax attorney or accountant with experience in eldercare as they take on the responsibility of caring for elderly parents. Family caregivers can usually ease the financial burden of caregiving when they file their annual taxes.

If you are a family caregiver for a relative (including in-laws or step-parents), and you pay at least 50% of their care, you can claim your elder as a dependent on your taxes. Be aware that the IRS will take your parents’ income into consideration when figuring your tax credits. Currently, your parents may not have a joint gross income of over $4050, not including Social Security income or other non-taxable income. Tax laws change often, so it’s wise to consult with a tax professional at least yearly as long as you continue caregiving duties.

Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to get deductions when you share caregiving with your siblings. Some families may receive tax credits when both spouses work, and they are paying for an alternate caregiver.

Even if you can’t claim your parents as dependents, you may still be able to deduct expenses like:

  • Prescriptions
  • Medical insurance premiums
  • Medical supplies
  • Glasses
  • Hearing aids
  • Mileage for doctor appointments

Be sure to share all of your caregiving expenses with your tax professional, even if you don’t think they are pertinent. You may qualify for more than you think.

Some Final Thoughts on Help for the Sandwich Generation


There’s no question that the sandwich generation has lots of company when it comes to fellow parents caring for multiple generations. Adult children of aging parents have much to learn from each other about finding ways to make the middle of the sandwich less burdensome financially, and otherwise. Networking is a good way to learn about how to access benefits through Medicaid, Medicare, the Veteran’s Administration, long-term care policies, and Supplemental Security Income.

As time goes on, things change and so will your life’s circumstances. During the challenging season of senior caregiving, find out as much as you can about balancing your life during the sandwich years.