Meet the 'sandwich generation': Financially strapped Gen Xers helping out both their parents and their children

Meet the 'sandwich generation': Financially strapped Gen Xers helping out both their parents and their children
The "sandwich generation" is mostly comprised of Gen Xers.Marko Geber/Getty Images
  • Most members of "the sandwich generation" are Gen Xers, per a new Pew report.
  • Sandwiched adults have a parent age 65 or older and either a young child or an adult child they've helped financially.

Gen X has a lot on their plates.

That's because many of them are part of what the Pew Research Center calls "the sandwich generation" — a microgeneration of adults "sandwiched" in between their children and an aging parent. About a quarter of US adults are part of this cohort, with more than half (54%) in their 40s and 36% in their 50s. Gen X, who turn ages 42 to 57 this year, make up the majority of this demographic.

Having a living parent at least 65-years-old while raising a child younger than 18 or helping an adult child financially, as Pew defines a sandwicher, can be a big burden. While not every person in this cohort is taking care of their older parents, many do find themselves in caregiving role.

The average caregiver in America is a 49-year-old woman, according to a report by AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving. The report also found that about half of Gen X caregivers have a child under age 18 living at home. Gen X caregivers are typically employed, with most saying caregiving has had at least one impact on their work. It's also impacting their finances more so than older caregivers — many said they've stopped saving, dipped into savings, or taken on more debt.

Caregiving was an especially burdensome task during the pandemic, as parents had to homeschool children during remote learning and worry about their aging parents, who are in the high-risk group for coronavirus.


That's not to mention the financial strain of raising a child to the age of 18, which can cost more than $230,000 on average. In today's economy, such costs carry on into adulthood, with almost half of adults ages 18 to 29 having received a lot or some financial help from their parents.

According to the Pew Survey, most sandwiched adults in their 40s have at least one child younger than 18, but no adult children they've helped out financially. That flips for those in their 50s, most of whom have an adult child they've helped financially.

Such midlife commitments help explain Gen X's spending habits. An Xer household's average annual expenditures totals $75,087, compared to the $61,334 national average. They're in their prime earning years, at a life stage where people can't help but spend substantial amounts, and have more members in their household, meaning more mouths to feed and bodies to clothe.

No wonder the typical Gen Xer is generally pretty stressed about their finances, especially when it comes to credit card debt. But all the costs seem to be worth it, considering that the Pew survey found the sandwiched generation is more likely than other adults to say they're very satisfied with their family life (48% versus 43%).

It seems, then, that being part of the sandwich generation is a double-edged sword.