Did We Forget About The Sandwich Generation?
Welcome to my weekly Q&A roundup. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)
If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions — tough questions, brave questions, you name it. The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. So each week, I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.
The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusivity.
- Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.
- Inclusivity: bringing others along in the journey.
Make The Sandwich Generation Part Of Your DEI Strategy
I heard the term “sandwich generation” months ago in discussions about the forthcoming infrastructure bill. But now that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal passed in the Senate, I haven’t seen any reference to it. Is it less of an issue than we originally thought it was?
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal (as of 8/18/21) does not include provisions for human infrastructure such as child and elderly care. We can leave it to political commentators to mull over why human infrastructure didn’t make it into this bill.
Today, I’d like us to focus our attention on the importance of the “sandwich generation” because, no — it’s not any less of an issue today than it was months ago. If anything, this situation is becoming direr. Let’s unpack why.
What Is The Sandwich Generation?
If you are part of the sandwich generation, it means you are a middle-aged adult who cares for an elderly parent or in-law and at least one child.
On one end of the spectrum we have a generation of children growing up during a time of accentuated instability. And on the other end we have an elderly population whose size is expected to increase by 93% in the next 30 years. In the middle: those 40-to-59-year-old Americans who must care for both.
I joined the sandwich generation last year after my Mum was diagnosed with cancer. She moved in with my family so that we could take care of her during her final months. It was a 24-hour job.
My Mum needed help getting to the bathroom, managing medication, preparing meals, selling her house, moving her belongings from California to Colorado, and managing her money. She also used a high capacity oxygen machine, which meant our energy bill more than doubled.
The sandwich generation has always existed in some form. The fact that a group of middle-aged Americans cares for their elderly parents while also caring for their children shouldn’t shock us. What should catch our attention, however, is the growth of the middle cohort and the number of responsibilities they now assume.
Today, nearly half (47%) of US adults ages 40 to 59 find themselves sandwiched as default caretakers in the middle of two generations.
What Is The Sandwich Generation Responsible For?
The responsibilities of this middle cohort of caretakers include:
- Household chores: 55% perform chores for their parents
- Financial management: 49% manage parents’ finances
- Health care: 47% spend an average of 2 hours per day on parental caregiving
- Economic support: 31% are financially responsible for their parents
To be clear, these responsibilities add to the existing laundry list of chores parents tick off on a daily basis in caring for their own children. And yes, the bulk of this unpaid labor falls on women’s shoulders. And yes, women’s burden of unpaid labor skyrocketed (by 153%!) during the pandemic.
When it comes to caring for their elderly parents, women in the sandwich generation are:
- More likely than men to be caregivers (55% of women versus 45% of men)
- More likely than men to take on the majority of caregiving (majority = more than 21 hours per week)
- Likely to be working full-time (54% of women caregivers toggle between full-time careers and caring)
And while the sandwich generation has a uniquely challenging set of demands on their time, their supply of time doesn’t change. They, like all of us, must fit their responsibilities into a 24-hour day. Trade-offs ensue. And those trade-offs carry economic value.
What Are The Economic Costs Of Today’s Sandwich Generation?
The average woman loses approximately $274,044 in wages and Social Security benefits as a direct result of leaving the labor force to take on more caregiving duties. Every year, Americans miss out on $28.9 billion in wages to care for family members.
The inequity surrounding today’s sandwich generation merits our intervention. It’s clear that public policy won’t provide the relief many were hoping for. Not yet.
So in the meantime, private sector leaders can ease the burden of the sandwich generation by providing comprehensive, gender-neutral paid leave to their employees. What do I mean by “comprehensive” and “gender-neutral” paid leave?
For that, I’ll direct your attention to this Fast Company article. The article highlights five key parameters organizations should include to ensure their paid leave policies are equitable, effective, and economically beneficial for all.