The typical family caregiver in the United States is still a female Baby Boomer caring for an aging parent. But research shows that the profile of a caregiver gets younger and more diverse by the day, as the needs of an aging society grow. More than a quarter — 28 percent — of those who care for an adult family member are also still caring for children living at home.
A report released this week takes a closer look at the 11 million so-called ‘sandwich’ caregivers who are caring for two generations simultaneously. It looks at who they are and the distinct challenges they experience. The report was produced by the National Alliance for Caregiving and Caring Across Generations.
The average sandwich caregiver is 41, about 12 years younger than caregivers without children living in the home, according to the report. Thirty-nine percent are men. Of these sandwich caregivers, more than two-thirds — 67 percent — report being employed, compared to 57-percent of non-sandwich caregivers.
On average sandwich caregivers are working 36 hours per week and devoting 22 hours of care for an adult, in addition to raising children.
On average they are working 36 hours per week and devoting 22 hours of care for an adult, in addition to raising children. Given these crowded schedules, 60 percent reported that caregiving has had an impact on their work life, including taking time off, or cutting back hours, or turning down a promotion. About a third reported a high level of emotional stress, and a fifth reported a high level of financial and physical strain.
Angela Parham, already a busy working mother of three children under the age of 11, described this week how she became a sandwich caregiver at a National Press Club briefing to mark the report’s release.
She helped to care for her father who died from cancer and then she turned her attention to her mother, who has needed significant emotional and practical support in the wake of her husband’s death, she said. Then, recently, her own spouse was diagnosed with brain cancer. While her caregiving demands have soared, she said she fears losing her job as she becomes the main financial provider of the family.
“I wish I had a timeline to tell me this is what you need to do in the first 30 days or 60 days,” she said. This is a “strain I wish on no one.”
The report recommends a series of policy changes to better support family caregivers, including paid family and medical leave, universal child care, and refundable tax credits to help families defray the cost of caregiving roles.
“Families are squeezed, and they need help to balance work and home life,” said Grace Whiting, president and chief executive of the National Alliance for Caregiving. “Now is the time to invest in workplace flexibility and a robust national infrastructure that can support and augment care for the friends and family who need our care.”
Michael Alison Chandler is managing editor at MemoryWell. Previously, she was a staff writer at the Washington Post for 13 years.