Who is the Sandwich Generation?



Getting its name from the snack of the same name and the connotation of something or someone being placed or torn between two compelling entities or situations, the Sandwich Generation is the name given to the generation between elders and children.

The Sandwich Generation

But just lying between these two generations or age groups is only half the story. The generation also finds itself responsible for the care, maintenance, and upkeep of both their elders and their young children, sone of whom may be youth.  

In Canada, people in the age group 45 to 64 are said to belong to the Sandwich Generation, though even younger people who have both parents and children could be considered to belong to this generation. A 2021 Census1 by Statistics Canada put the number belonging to this category as approx. 10.12 million or roughly 26% of the Canadian population.

Care and More Care

Statistics Canada says that nearly 0.7 million citizens2 belonging to the Sandwich Generation are engaged in some form of care of both elders and youngsters in their families.  Women constituted nearly 54% of them3.

Nearly 75%4 of the entire care given to elders by this growing community is of an informal nature, with an average of 2 to upwards of 30 hours5 of the week being spent on caregiving, according to Statistics Canada.

But caring for elders is not the only burden these family caregivers carry. Studies of families in the US show that children of the Sandwich Generation are adding to the care equation. The PEW Research Center in a July 2020 report stated that as much as 52% of young adults6 stayed with their parents (the Sandwich Generation), the highest percentage since the Great Depression.

Undoubtedly, this is translating into unimaginable burdens on our Sandwich Generation.

The Balancing Act

Charged with the responsibility of dual care of the older and younger generations, it is a virtual balancing act for the Sandwich Generation. It is not surprising to learn that many in the Sandwich Generation experience problems in areas as diverse as finance, health, identity, employment, and self-time.

Amongst the first situation most face is the immense financial burden they face to take care of the needs of the family. With elders requiring special care and frequent medical attention and youngsters not far behind with costs of education, lifestyle and health, the Sandwich Generation are prone to finds themselves cash-strapped and walking a tightrope where their finances are concerned.

Heath problems are beginning to be increasingly seen in the generation. Family caregivers profess to experience extraordinary stress levels due to coping with sustained and unrelenting care of elders and children. A report by Chartwell, says that 46% of Canadians who care for their ailing spouses experience 5 or more symptoms of stress or impaired health. The figure is equally high for those caring for elders – almost 30% said they experienced 5 or more symptoms of psychological stress and impaired health7.  

Many of those belonging to the Sandwich Generation suffer from an identity crisis as they have trouble playing multiple roles into which they find themselves in – children of their parents, spouses and homemakers, career persons, and parents to their own children. Playing multiple roles seriously impacts their energy levels and personal time, very often resulting in mistakes, less than satisfactory performance or attention to matters, fatigue, stress, relationship issues and health situations.

Managing a home with a diverse set of age groups is taxing by itself. And should the person also be pursuing a career; the situation is further exacerbated. Inability to concentrate, deliver and perform invariably result in additional stress. Persons belonging to Sandwich Generation often experience reprimands at work, occasionally leading to layoffs.

Making Things Work

The Sandwich Generation continues to struggle with its balancing act of managing the elder and younger generation, battling stress, financial challenges and identity crises. Many are resorting to counselling, and still others turning to friends and colleagues for advice, solace and peace of mind. While there is no real one-solution-fits-all, many are finding some respite in careful financial planning, budgeting, tax benefits, social aid, insurance measures and the like. Some are using services offered by home service providers, including Respite Care Services that extend short-term relief to family caregivers.

Home Care

With senior care representing one half of the burden of the Sandwich Generation, and arguably one requiring greater skills on behalf of the caregiver, home care of the seniors in the family is a question the Sandwich Generation will encounter. Professional and private home care is rendered by trained and skilled nurses, registered practical nurses and personal support workers on a full-time or part-time basis. In view of the levels of experience they bring to the situation, home care providers are considered the best option for home care of seniors. It is therefore prudent to look at home care from an investment perspective and weigh it against the costs that may be incurred otherwise in terms of breakdown in health of the family caregiver, or the opportunity cost of time that may be spent productively elsewhere to shore up the family’s finances.

If the family caregiver route is still preferred, Respite Care involving short term nursing support in place of the family caregiver, can also be considered. Respite Care would allow the family caregiver to recuperate, and return refreshed for home care.

Future Outlook

With life expectancy widely predicted to go up due to the progress of medicine, the number of elders is likely to surge in the coming periods. In both US and Canada, elders are likely to outnumber children by 2030, a fact that is alarming both from the point of view of a population imbalance as well as from the point of view of the stress it will place on the Sandwich Generation, who though growing in number will be increasingly stressed by the vitiating situation.

It is a dilemma that is already causing consternation in many circles and hopefully will be addressed by corrective measures.



References :

  1. Statistics Canada | Link : Canada: population, by gender and age 2021 | Statista
  2. Statistics Canada | Link : The Daily — Caregivers in Canada, 2018 (statcan.gc.ca)
  3. Statistics Canada | Link : The experiences and needs of older caregivers in Canada (statcan.gc.ca)
  4. Chartwell | Link : The Sandwich Generation: Who are Canada’s family caregivers and how are they doing? (chartwell.com)
  5. Statistics Canada | Link : The experiences and needs of older caregivers in Canada (statcan.gc.ca)
  6. Pew Research Center | Link : 52% of young adults in US are living with their parents amid COVID-19 | Pew Research Center
  7. Chartwell : Link : The Sandwich Generation: Who are Canada’s family caregivers and how are they doing? (chartwell.com)