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Why Are More Millennial Women in the Sandwich Generation?

Women and millennials are feeling the Sandwich Squeeze more than anyone else.

by Vivian Manning-Schaffel | July 1, 2021
<p>Three generations at the kitchen table.</p>

Millennial women have begun to fill the ranks of the Sandwich Generation, joining GenX and Boomers in the squeeze.

The Squeeze

  • The Sandwich Generation is predominantly female: 64 percent of women are caught between caring for their parents and their kids as opposed to 36 percent of men.
  • Twenty percent of caregivers report experiencing high financial strain as a result of providing care.
  • Between meeting the needs of their parents and their children, the Sandwich Generation is struggling and scrambling to find sufficient resources — both emotionally and financially. 

Created in the 80s, the term “Sandwich Generation” describes being caught between financially and emotionally caring for parents while also caring for your kids. But increasingly, that definition could also include “Millennial” and “female.”

In more recent years — especially since the pandemic hit — Millennial women have begun to fill the ranks of the Sandwich Generation, joining GenX and Boomers in the squeeze. Indeed, Millennials are now just as likely to be sandwiched as Gen-Xers, comprising more than one-third of all multigenerational caregivers, according to a recent report from New York Life.

All told, the percentage of women balancing the care of their parents and their children has risen four points to 64 percent in just a couple of years. 

“This increase over a relatively short period indicates a change in caregiving as some women may have taken on even more responsibilities as a result of the pandemic,” states the report. “The increase in Millennials as part of the Sandwich Generation is also notable. Over time, Millennials are expected to make up an even greater percentage of this demographic as caregiving responsibilities continue to shift and the population ages.” 

Millennials are on track to be more “sandwiched” than ever

Of course, half the sandwich involves parenting, something most Millennials have delayed until their 30s, according to the Washington Post

Like everything, the wait for kids has its pros and cons. “Millennials having children later in life tend to have the benefit of higher education, and though they make more money, they get stuck paying for both childcare and eldercare at the same time,” explains Julia Beck, founder of the It’s Working Project. 

Adds Beck, “Eventually, Millennials are faced with difficult decisions — continue in the career they’ve invested in or reach the breaking point.”

Sandwich Generation Millennials are also feeling the squeeze because they’re still paying student loans and dealing with record levels of medical debt. To add to the financial subtractions: wages have remained generally stagnant and they will feel the lasting economic impact of caring for their loved ones during COVID-19.  

Balance is the ultimate Sandwich Generation achievement

Difficult decisions are par for the course for women in the Sandwich Generation, no matter their age. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2007 Stress in America Survey, 40 percent of mothers aged 35-54 in the Sandwich Generation feel “extreme levels of stress,” while nearly 2 in 5 men and women in this age group feel overextended. This kind of pervasive stress can take a toll on personal relationships; 83 percent say relationships with their spouse, children, and family is the top source of their anxiety.

A recent study published in PLoS One sought to explore the balance strategies of a small group of Sandwich Generation women. The upshot: All felt that “seeking to achieve and maintain role balance” was their central life goal — and that as difficult as it is, managing to care for both their parents and their children once they find that balance “makes you feel good about yourself.”

Difficult decisions are par for the course for women in the Sandwich Generation, no matter their age.

How the Sandwich Squeeze affects women’s finances

When it comes to Millennial finances in the Sandwich Generation, the mythical balance we yearn for is even more elusive when faced with competing financial priorities.

In The Atlantic, author Ada Calhoun notes that when a woman leaves work to care for a sick relative, the potential cost of lost wages and Social Security benefits averages as much as $324,000 during her lifetime. Amid the COVID-19 recession, almost 60 percent of women have had to balance paying off debt, saving for retirement, or building emergency savings. 

No wonder, then, that a December 2020 report by The Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies finds that 33 percent of women surveyed say they’re “just getting by to cover basic living expenses,” 30 percent aren’t saving for retirement. 

By comparison, 19 percent of men surveyed they aren’t saving for retirement either. It’s time to get everyone on their own path to financial wellness.

About the Author

Vivian Manning-Schaffel is a multifaceted storyteller whose work is featured in an assortment of publications including Shondaland, The Cut, NBC/Today, New York Daily News, Forge/Medium, and The Week.

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