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The Plight of the Sandwich Generation

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Posted By Paula Nourse

One in every eight Americans between the ages of 40 and 70 is caring for a parent while raising, at least, one child. These overstretched individuals are collectively known as the Sandwich Generation. According to the Pew Research Center, the Sandwich Generation is increasing as the number of people aged 65 or older grows. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that people 65 and older will double by 2030 to over 70 million.

This is a global issue. In Australia, there are 2.6 million unpaid people taking care of children and elderly parents simultaneously. A Carers Report for the United Kingdom reported that in 2012, 2.4 million people were caring for older or disabled relatives. In South Africa, 30 percent of households are now multi-generational, and the trend is growing. 

As people age in rural communities, the sandwich generation grows there as well. Adults over the age of 65 made up just 10 percent of the rural population in 1980, but by 2016, that number had grown to nearly 18 percent. There are now more than 10 million rural Americans aged 65 or older. Source: U.S. Census

What are the ingredients that make a Sandwich Generation?

One: Booming Populations In Japan, in the year 1948, the “first baby boom” generation in that country was born and those 2.09 million babies who are still living, will turn 72 in 2020.

The overwhelming numbers of caregivers in the U.S. who are carrying the load for two different generations are staggering and growing due to the numbers of aging Baby Boomers.  Between 1946 and 1964, 75.8 million Americans were born. It was 285 percent of the total U.S. population at the time.  

Two: Longevity The average life span in much of the world has exceeded 80 years. In Dr. Atul Gawande’s book about medicine and what matters at the end of life, Being Mortal, he writes, “…in all but the past couple hundred years—the average life span of human beings has been thirty years or less. The natural course was to die before old age. Indeed, for most of history, death was a risk at every period of life and had no apparent connection with aging at all. Gawande quotes, Montaigne who observing late-sixteenth century life wrote, “To die of aging is a rare, singular, and extraordinary death, and so much less natural than other [causes]. It is the last and most extreme kind of dying.” 

See Life Expectancy Around the World 1950-2019

Three: Healthcare Prolongs Life but Does Not Cure the Decrepitude of Aging The elderly accounted for 34 percent of medical spending in 2010. Source: US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  Going back to Dr. Gawande’s book, Being Mortal, “Our bodies accumulate lipofuscin and oxygen free-radical damage, random DNA mutations, and numerous other microcellular problems.  The process is gradual and unrelenting.”  Source: US Census

Singapore tops the world in life expectancy – at almost 85 years of age, based on a 2017 study that suggests its citizens are now outliving the long-time champions, the Japanese. Source: World Health Rankings

However, studies conducted this year found that between 2009 and 2017, the proportion of older adults with three or more chronic diseases had nearly doubled. Apart from having difficulty carrying out daily living activities, more Singaporeans aged 60 and above are also experiencing chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, cataract, arthritis, and diabetes.

The solution to the Sandwich Generation issue may be to change attitudes, look toward the future earlier, and gain a better understanding of the costs of care. Several retirement planning providers in Singapore have launched campaigns to change attitudes and offer financial planning to the country’s current Sandwich Generation. The goal is to eliminate their dependency on their children.   Watch NTUC’s video on how-to-be-the-last Sandwich Generation.

NTUC Income promotes its retirement plans to help end the sandwich generation.

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One thought on “The Plight of the Sandwich Generation
  1. David Rennke

    Great article Paula! I can identify with ths – I was still raising my daughters when my mom’s health began declining. Definitely a challenge.

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