45-55 year old Boomers Now Sandwiched between Immediate, Extended Families
Washington, DC – The Boomer population has redefined yet another aspect of American society – the “sandwich generation,” according to a survey released today by AARP.
The sandwich generation label has been used for decades to describe those who provide care for both their children and their parents. But, reflecting new realities, the latest sandwich—as seen by AARP and increasingly embraced by leading experts and interest groups—extends the label to those likely to be managing the needs of immediate and extended family, and even those not related by blood.
The AARP survey has important multi-cultural findings, including the fact that large numbers of Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans and African Americans provide care for parents and other adults.
“In today’s multi-cultural America, we see new, non-nuclear family arrangements that find many Boomers sandwiched between extended family and non-family members,” said Bill Novelli, AARP’s executive director. “Caregivers today may be assisting not only their own children and parents, but also grandchildren, nieces, nephews and even children of friends and neighbors.”
Novelli outlined the new sandwich and its implications today as AARP released the results of the study—”In the Middle: A Report of Multicultural Boomers Coping with Family and Aging Issues”—the first report of its kind to document the attitudes and behavior of the sandwich generation from a multicultural perspective.
The national survey, conducted by telephone this spring with more than 2,300 Americans aged 45 to 55, found that many are squeezed, but not overwhelmed by the sandwich issue. Seventy-four percent say that they are able to handle their family responsibilities, and most say that they do not feel overly stressed by family issues.
However, some are beginning to feel the strain of having elderly parents and/or young children simultaneously—especially those who are directly responsible for the care of their parents and other older family members. Two in ten said they experience stress because they are sandwiched between older and younger generations, and three in ten who have responsibility for their parents’ or in-laws’ care cited stress.
“Low-income individuals…feel more stressed about their responsibilities and are less able to take time off work to help care for family members,” the AARP report said. “Individuals with low incomes also report being more overwhelmed by their family responsibilities.”
“It is significant that nearly one third—most notably, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans and African Americans, especially those with low incomes—feel heavily burdened,” said Novelli. “Creative approaches are needed to help reduce that burden.”
The report shows that the degree of participation, the ways in which the sandwich Boomers cope, and the dynamics of their families differ to some degree depending on race, culture, and income.
For example, Asian American and Hispanic American families feel more guilt about the level of care they provide, though, at the same time, they provide more care.
Nineteen percent of non-Hispanic whites participate in caring for parents and other older adults, compared with 28 percent of African Americans, 34 percent of Hispanic Americans, and 42 percent of Asian Americans. People born outside the United States are more likely to provide such care (43 percent) than those born in this country (20 percent).
Most members of the newly-redefined sandwich generation welcome the chance to help care for their parents despite the added demands. But a sizable number—48 percent—believe they should be doing, or should have done, more for their parents. Asian Americans, among the most active caregivers, express the most guilt (72 percent), while the figure for Hispanic Americans is 65 percent and, for African Americans, 54 percent. Non-Hispanic whites feel less guilty (44 percent).
Despite their own family responsibilities, nearly 7 in 10 of all respondents (69%) rejected the idea that their children should be expected to take care of them in their old age. However, opinions on this issue vary by race and ethnicity, with non-Hispanic whites (72 percent) and African Americans (68 percent) least likely to expect care by their children. The figure for Hispanic Americans was 60 percent; for Asian Americans, 49 percent.
Contrasts are evident among the racial and ethnic groups, but so are similarities. All are coping, and a majority turn first to faith and prayer for comfort. Overall, the AARP survey found that, to help take care of family members, nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of the sandwich generation turn to faith and prayer. Forty-two percent indicated that their church, synagogue, temple or other religious organization has been helpful.
Here are some other racial and ethnic highlights by group:
- Asian Americans (four percent of the sandwich generation) express more stress than others from pressures of caring for family members, with a high percentage (see above) providing more for their parents than are other Americans. Much of their caregiving is extremely time consuming, the survey found.
- Hispanic Americans (nine percent of the sandwich cohort) have more children than others and, more often, have both parents living. Over a third (34 percent) take responsibility for the care of parents and older relatives, and their commitment is frequently substantial: financial support, personal care and helping obtain medical attention.
- African Americans (11 percent) deal with more potentially stressful situations than other groups, but with just as much optimism. Their coping mechanisms are likely to include religious faith, family connections (including siblings) and a greater reliance on doctors and governmental agencies than do other ethnic groups.
- Non-Hispanic whites (75 percent) are less likely to be caught in a squeeze between generations. They are most likely to live only with a spouse, without children or parents in the house, and they are more optimistic than other ethnic groups.
AARP announced that it will build on the survey’s unique look at the sandwich generation from a multi-cultural perspective and already has established a dialogue with a number of interested organizations.
In responding to the survey, AARP pointed to several approaches that would address the challenges of the caregiver:
- Working individuals need more workplace flexibility to meet family caregiving demands. Such new practices should be supplementary to those included in the Family and Medical Leave Act, which was strongly endorsed by AARP.
- Prescription drug coverage in Medicare and the strengthening of Social Security are the twin centerpieces of AARP’s advocacy program that would help ease the burden of caregiving.
- Caregiver programs should address the needs of diverse populations engaged in family caregiving through techniques such as multi-lingual staff and through programs that incorporate ethnic cultural traditions.
- The fragmented nature of home and community-based services for people in need of long-term care should be strengthened. Included would be improved financing, community-based navigation help for families, and greater coordination of service delivery to ensure that services are provided at the appropriate level. AARP is working to address these issues as well.
“Social and government institutions need to find ways to provide caregiver support to sandwich generation families, especially with life expectancy continuing to increase,” said Novelli. “This is particularly true for minority and ethnic groups,” he added.
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization for people 50 and over. It provides information and resources; advocates on legislative, consumer, and legal issues; assists members to serve their communities; and offers a wide range of unique benefits, special products, and services for its members. These benefits include AARP Webplace at www.aarp.org, Modern Maturity and My Generation magazines, and the monthly AARP Bulletin.
Active in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, AARP celebrates the attitude that age is just a number and life is what you make it.