Sandwich Generation Struggling with Financial Demands

Survey says 59% plan to give parents or in-laws financial support as they age
Grandparents playing with their grandkids

Parenthood can be challenging on a good day. And for those caring for both dependent children and aging parents at the same time, the financial and emotional toll can be debilitating, a recent survey suggests.

Haven Life Insurance Agency, a division of the financial services company MassMutual, surveyed 1,078 adults between the ages of 30 and 55 to gain some insight into members of the so-called “sandwich generation” — those caring for both children and parents. All survey respondents have dependent children and provide care or make decisions for at least one parent.

Not only did a majority of respondents — 80% — say they feel overwhelmed either often or constantly, but many are experiencing a significant financial impact. And note too that the survey was conducted in late January, when there had still been no coronavirus-linked deaths reported outside of China.

Family care takes a toll

Some members of the sandwich generation have had to make sacrifices in order to handle family obligations. Increasingly in the U.S., multiple generations are living under the same roof.

According to the Haven Life survey, 60% said they help their parents with healthcare decisions, and 55% said they help with financial decisions. But beyond just giving advice, a substantial percentage (43%) also either help their parents financially or provide physical care.

These figures seem likely to move higher, with 59% of respondents saying they expect to give financial support to their parents or in-laws as they grow older.

For some, taking on such financial responsibility can hurt their own futures, as more than half of respondents (55%) said they have had to adjust their retirement goals because of the financial demands. On top of that, 29% fear that they will never retire.

The anxiety resulting from this is pervasive, the study found. In fact, the 80% of respondents who said they felt overwhelmed “often or constantly” reported experiencing such feelings, on average, nearly five days out of the week.

Income may make a difference

The survey also suggests that income may play a role in how overwhelmed one feels. Among respondents with an income of $49,900 or less, 84% said they were overwhelmed by their family obligations. However, among respondents with an income over $150,000, 63% said they felt that way.

Some recognize that they could use some assistance in dealing with the financial toll. When asked what would help to cut down some of their stress, more than half (57%) said access to a financial advisor would make a difference.

Still, income wasn’t the only factor affecting respondents’ feelings about taking care of multiple generations of family members. Gender seemed to also play a role: Among those surveyed, 84% of women reported feeling overwhelmed, compared to 75% of men.

The stress of caring for aging parents and young children at the same time can have an impact on the entire family. If you have siblings, it may be a good idea to discuss what the family will do for mom and dad before potential health and financial challenges arise.

Also, talk to your parents about what plans they may have in place for their future care. For example, they may have long-term care insurance, which could help defray costs if they need a nursing home or assisted living care down the road.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.