What's the 'Club Sandwich Generation'?

Families don't look like this anymore. (Photo: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

If you've never heard of the "club sandwich generation," it's a term invented by author by journalist Carol Abaya to describe older members of the sandwich generation, that group of parents with young kids and older parents. In the club sandwich generation, many are senior citizens themselves, people in their 60s and 70s taking care of parents in their 90s or older, while their kids are old enough to have their own children. It’s a clever name that recognizes the fact that there's a whole new layer, yet other generation added to the mix. According to Tim Ross in the Telegraph,

In 20 years’ time, one in four families will include frail great-grandparents in their 80s and 90s as well as infant great-grandchildren, who will require childcare. Experts warned that the “squeezed” middle generation — aged between 55 and 64 — will face a “double whammy” as they are asked to contribute towards the cost of educating and caring for their grandchildren and looking after their elderly parents.

Those are the people in their 30 and 40s now — those who have kids and boomer parents; sandwiched now and clubbed later.

When my mom was in her early 70s, she was an early member of this club, taking care of her mom until she died at 103. I thought this was terrible, that she was taking care of my sick grandma and my sick dad at the same time. After her mom died, she only had three years with her husband. My wife and I had toddlers and could not do much to help at all. And yes, I was a starving architect, so they were helping me with my kids too.

Now she is 97, and in relatively good physical health. Unfortunately last year she fell and hit her head on the pavement and we lost most of her, and she now needs round-the-clock care and supervision. Fortunately for me, she can afford this level of care and lives only a few blocks away, so it's not a huge burden. But for many it is; Many have reached or are approaching their own retirement age and what are they doing? Taking care of their parents and still worrying about their kids.

I have one friend, an only child living on the East Coast, trying to manage the affairs of her elderly parents in Toronto. The horror stories she has recounted on Facebook are astonishing. Another friend's mom was in a condo, and the board was threatening to go to court to get her out of the building because she had become so disruptive. My friend finally had to force his mother to move into a nursing home.

And really, it's only going to get worse as the bulk of the baby boom hits so-called retirement age in the next few years. Many of them are taking care of their parents, their kids and more of them are all living together in one household. According to Pew, the number of people living in multigenerational homes has doubled in the last 30 years. The mix has changed too.

Historically, the nation’s oldest Americans have been the age group most likely to live in multi-generational households. But in recent years, younger adults have surpassed older adults in this regard. In 2012, 22.7% of adults ages 85 and older lived in a multi-generational household, just shy of the 23.6% of adults ages 25 to 34 in the same situation.
kids living with parents
More kids are living with their parents. (Photo: Pew)

I cannot find any data about how many four-generation households there are, but I suppose if you're caring for both parents and grandchildren, it will be more convenient and a lot more common. I suspect our houses are going to start looking more like triplexes.

There are so many issues and problems coming down the road with the aging of the baby boomer generation. Unfortunately the people who are going have to deal with it all are their kids. It won't be pretty.