We’ve all heard a lot of news stories lately related to the various generations of Americans — the Baby Boomers, the Millennials, the latest Alpha Generation, and so forth. However, many members of Gen X — those Americans born between 1965 and 1980 — have been dubbed with a second moniker — the “Sandwich Generation” — representing a common challenge a large percentage of them face.

This nickname acknowledges the fact that many Gen Xers are stuck between caring for young children (or financially supporting a young adult child) while simultaneously being called on to help their aging parents physically and/or financially. And this is on top of juggling other work and home responsibilities, of course. As a 2021 Pew Research Center study reveals, being in this Sandwich Generation can be a difficult predicament for a number of reasons.

How Gen X got “sandwiched”

Gen X was predominantly raised during the freewheeling ‘70s and ‘80s. Usually the children of the Baby Boomers, Gen Xers were the latchkey kids who rode their bikes all over town with the only parameter being to come home when the streetlights turned on.

As adults, Gen X often prioritized education and/or career over marriage, homeownership, and starting a family. As a result, many people in this cohort had children later in life than their parents did. They also frequently moved away from their hometown to pursue their education or find work thus leaving behind their native support system.

The other upshot of these life choices is that a large number of people in Gen X now find themselves in the middle of their childrearing years while their aging parents — many of whom are living longer as a result of medical advancements — are beginning to need more and more assistance.

The level of assistance needed by aging parents may range widely, depending on the situation, from help with some home maintenance tasks to financial assistance to pay for necessities to full-time care … or anything in between. And since many Gen Xers relocated for school or work, they oftentimes do not live close to their aging parents who are beginning to need such help.

>> Related: The Challenge of Long-Distance Caregiving

Digging into the Sandwich Generation

Based on its October 2021 “American Trends Panel” survey of 9,676 American adults, Pew Research Center estimates that nearly a quarter (23%) of U.S. adults are part of this so-called Sandwich Generation, with those Gen Xers currently in their 40s the most likely to find themselves “sandwiched” between their school-age or young adult children and an aging parent age 65 or older.

The Pew study also uncovered a number of other interesting statistics surrounding the state of the Sandwich Generation. Here’s the breakdown.


More than half (54%) of those in their 40s have a living parent who is age 65 or older in addition to having a child under the age of 18 and/or a young adult child who they are still helping financially. By contrast, only a third (36%) of those in their 50s are in this same situation, and only a quarter (27%) of those in their 30s are. At either end of the spectrum of adults, fewer than 1 in 10 of adults under age 30 (6%) or those age 60 and older (7%) are “sandwiched.”

The specific family circumstances of those in the Sandwich Generation also varied significantly based on their age. A substantial majority of those who are in their 30s (95%) and 40s (65%) have an aging parent and at least one child who is younger than 18, but have no young adult children they are supporting.

For those in their 50s, however, this begins to shift as fewer are raising minor children but more have young adult children plus an aging parent. In fact, more than half of those in their 50s (59%) and a large majority of those who are themselves age 60 and older (83%) are sandwiched between an aging parent and an adult child who they help financially.  

Marital status

The Pew study highlighted an interesting finding about the Sandwich Generation based on marital status. About 1 in 3 married adults (32%) have a minor child and/or a young adult one they help financially on top of an aging parent who is 65 or older. By comparison, fewer than a quarter (23%) of adults who are divorced or separated, and just 1 in 5 (20%) of those who are living with a partner have this situation to contend with. What’s more, only 7% of those who are widowed or have never been married are part of the Sandwich Generation.

Education and income level

Education level is another important factor when breaking down statistics about the Sandwich Generation. About 1 in 3 people with at least a Bachelor’s degree (30%) are raising children on top of having aging parents. This may be attributable in part  to Gen X’s prioritizing education over starting a family at a younger age. By contrast, only 1 in 5 of those adults with some college or less education (20%) are in this situation.

Income level also comes into play here. Over a quarter (27%) of people with upper incomes — incomes greater than roughly $125,900 annually for an average family of three — are sandwiched between their aging parents and minor children or financially dependent young adult children. This is in comparison to a quarter (24%) of middle-income adults — those who make about $42,000 to $125,900. Just 1 in 5 (21%) of those with lower incomes (incomes less than roughly $42,000) are in this situation.

>> Related: Family Caregiving Can Present Stressful Challenges

A costly and often-difficult recipe

Those who find themselves sandwiched between helping their children and helping their aging parents face a number of challenges.

First, juggling childrearing and the growing caregiving needs of aging parents can be quite costly. US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data from 2015 shows that a child born into a middle-income family costs roughly $12,980 to $13,900 per year (depending on the age of the child). With inflation adjustments, that number has risen by approximately 25% in today’s dollars, putting the figure over $17,000 per child.

Then add in costs associated with caregiving for an older adult. When adult children take on unpaid family caregiving responsibilities for an aging parent, that time away from their paid job can reduce their paycheck, hinder career advancement and raises, as well as result in a hit to their own retirement savings. For who must help cover the cost of a paid caregiver for their aging parent, this equation can quickly get even more costly.

As an example, based on Genworth’s Cost of Care Survey, families in 2024 can expect to pay around $6,000 a month for 44 hours per week of in-home care for an aging loved one. For those who need more care, moving to a care community may be required, which can be even more costly. An assisted living community averages around $5,500 each month, and a 24-hour skilled nursing care facility costs $9,000 to $10,000 each month, on average.

On top of potential caregiving costs, being a member of the Sandwich Generation can also be very mentally stressful. Feeling pulled in so many different directions — between child-rearing responsibilities, the care needs of an aging parent, and potential career demands — can feel like a no-win situation. This stress can impact work performance, marital and social relationships, as well as the emotional and physical bandwidth to care for family members, young and old.

>> Related: The High Price of Family Caregiving

The ingredients for happiness

Although taking care of children while dealing with the potentially increasing needs of aging parents can be a challenge, it seems the news isn’t all bad for the Sandwich Generation.

Interestingly, the Pew study found that those caring for children who also have a parent over age 65 are actually more likely to say they are “very satisfied” with their family life than those who are not in this same situation (48% vs. 43%, respectively).

This difference is even more striking for Gen Xers in their 40s, nearly half (49%) of whom say they are “very satisfied” with their family life, versus just 38% of others in their 40s. And those in the Sandwich Generation are equally satisfied with their social lives as other adults who don’t have children to care for and/or living aging parents (24%), the Pew survey revealed.

Perhaps this study finding on happiness hints at the personal satisfaction many people feel with raising their children and also being able to help their aging parents. But more likely, it speaks to the deep love those in the Sandwich Generation have for their children and their own parents.

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