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The Midlife Crisis: Living in the Sandwich Generation

  • Barbara Eruo

 

A good percentage of middle-aged adults are going through a bit of a midlife crisis, and it’s not what you think. Not only do they have to worry about the stress of daily life, but these people in the so-called sandwich generation also have to deal with stress from people who are really close to them. According to the Pew Research Center, about 15 percent of U.S. adults in their 40s and 50s are directly providing financial support to their children and elderly parents (1). An additional seven to ten million Americans also take care of elderly parents or relatives who do not live in the same household (2).

Much of the research into the sandwich generation focuses on the stuff in the middle - the middle-aged people caught between the roles of parent and child. In their position as caregiver, they help their loved ones with dressing themselves, driving to different locations, and figuring out medical care, among other activities. These responsibilities take much time out of the day for the caregivers, as well as a lot of effort. In addition, possibly due to the improvements that have been made in medicine and other fields, people are living much longer lives than the people born just a generation before. This means that the sandwich-agers are also spending more time taking care of the elders than the generation before.

On the flip side, young adults are faced with a very competitive job market and increasing living costs. So, in order to cut expenses, they boomerang back home to live with their parents. A study by the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that about 29 percent of young adults between 24 and 34 years of age were living with their parents (2). Their parents allowed them to move in order to save money, however this again places them in the care of their parents.  As a result, pressure is coming from above and below for middle-aged adults.

And it’s not like they are really getting any help from jobs. In the U.S., there are no federal laws or policies discussing paid family leave; they only mention unpaid family leave. Only a few states officially recognize the benefits of having paid family leave, offering up to 12 weeks of time off (3). If this was offered across America, millions of people would benefit greatly.

A 2014 study from the University of California, Berkeley reported that sandwich generation members spend somewhere between 16 and 26 hours a week taking care of their elderly parents (4). That’s basically a part time job, except they make no money from it. And since there aren’t many good family leave policies, the sandwich-agers are pretty much forced to choose between caring for their parents or working to earn money. Among middle-aged adults who were working full-time while also providing more than 21 hours of caregiving a week, about 25% of them decided to reduce their work hours or work at a different job that required less of them. They had to choose between their work life and their family life; and they chose family. This is even more unfortunate considering that caregivers are usually people who cannot afford to take a pay cut or take time off from work (3). One study showed that for multigenerational caregivers, they often spend about 86 minutes fewer a day on paid work than people who were not also taking care of their elderly parents (5).

Despite the added stress, there are some good things that come out of the situation. For one, many of the middle-aged adults with grown children noted that their relationships are different - in a good way - from the relationships they had with their own parents at a similar age. About 50% of them said that they actually feel like they have a closer relationship with their kids. In addition, middle-aged caregivers are just as happy in life as other adults. About 52% of them stated that they are pretty happy while another 31% said that they are very happy (compared to 51% and 28% respectively, with other adults) (1).

It is important that caregivers learn how to balance their time and their energy. If they don’t figure that out, they may end up stretching themselves too thin. People with chronic stress are at a higher risk of developing heart disease, depression, and high blood pressure, among others (4). Stress management, meditation, self-care, and other methods can be used to help mitigate the effects of stress on the body. Check out our blog on self-care to get a better understanding of what it is and how it can help you. Above all, caregivers need to remember to take care of themselves in order to take care of others.


 

Sources:

1. Parker, K., & Patten E. (2013). The sandwich generation. Retrieved from https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/01/30/the-sandwich-generation/

2. Vitelli, R. (2015). Being in the sandwich generation. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/media-spotlight/201501/being-in-the-sandwich-generation

3. Infurna, F. J. (2019). The real midlife crisis confronting many Americans. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/the-real-midlife-crisis-confronting-many-americans-114347

4. Godman, H. (2018). Coping with stress when you’re in the sandwich generation. Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/2018-08-10/coping-with-stress-when-youre-in-the-sandwich-generation

5. Livingston, G. (2018). More than one-in-ten U.S. parents are also caring for an adult. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/11/29/more-than-one-in-ten-u-s-parents-are-also-caring-for-an-adult/ 

 

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