Empty Nesting

The New Sandwich Generation

By Walter H. Zultowski, Ph.D

By now, you’ve probably heard of the “sandwich generation” – those mostly middle-aged adults who find themselves providing financial support for parents and/or children at the same time. A recent research study by Pew Research Center1 shows that this phenomenon not only continues, but has also changed in a couple of interesting ways:


  • Nearly half of today’s adults in their 40s and 50s find themselves with parents 65 or older and either raising a minor child or supporting a grown child.1
  • About one-in-seven (15 percent) are providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child.1

While the number of these “sandwiched” adults has grown only marginally in recent years, the financial burden of supporting multiple generations has increased significantly. This is suggested by the fact that those adults whose annual household income is more than $100,000 are almost twice as likely to be in the sandwich generation, as those making less.

“The sandwich generation phenomenon has created an increasing need for life insurance among middle-aged Americans.”

Interestingly, this growing burden on today’s sandwich generation is primarily due to the increased support of grown children. Overall, Americans are more likely to be providing financial support to a grown child than they are to an aging parent.

  • Roughly half of adults ages 40-59 are now providing some financial support for at least one grown child, with 27 percent providing primary support.1

This can be attributed to children moving back in after a divorce (possibly with children of their own), as well as the sluggish recovery following the Great Recession, which has taken a disproportionate toll on today’s young adults.

Additionally, the face of today’s sandwich generation is changing. Once synonymous with the baby boomer generation, it is increasingly made up of Gen Xers. Today, Gen X adults find themselves joining their boomer counterparts in this sometimes emotional and financially stressful situation. This trend shows that this phenomenon is not going away, and it should continue to be a concern for middle-aged adults through retirement.

The sandwich generation phenomenon has created an increasing need for life insurance among middle-aged Americans. Years ago, life insurance was primarily purchased by young families for income protection, and by older adults for final expense purposes. People in their 50s and 60s didn’t think as much about it. However, with increasing longevity of parents and the continuing prospect of adult children struggling to establish themselves, the pressure on one’s income to support multiple generations has likely never been greater. As a result, the need to protect one’s income in case of premature death has also never been greater.

If you’re part of the new sandwich generation, you should review the adequacy of your individually owned and employer-provided life insurance coverage.

  • Your current coverage may be inadequate due to an expiring term policy or retirement.
  • Being proactive and reviewing your coverage now can help you to address any gaps that may exist in your coverage, which, if left unchanged, could be potentially devastating to the loved ones who depend on you.

1Pew Research Center. 2013. The Sandwich Generation, Rising Financial Burdens for Middle-Aged Americans.

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