by | Nadia Sullivan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Even if you’ve never heard the phrase “sandwich generation” before, chances are, the term could be describing you as you’re reading along this article.
Today, many adults in their 40s, 50s and early 30s face a situation where they are caught up in the middle between
financial commitment and family responsibilities.
These middle-aged adults, known as the “sandwich generation”, find themselves in a double-bind to provide care for their aging parents while supporting their own children.
The term “sandwich generation” was first coined by social worker, Dorothy Miller back in 1981 to describe women in
their 30s and 40s, who were “sandwiched” between young children and aging parents as the primary caregivers.
However, a lot has changed since then. A couple of key factors have largely contributed to this:
• Delayed parenting. Voluntary postponement of childbearing is the new norm in today’s society. Couples delay raising a family into their 30s.
• Increased life span. People are living longer as a result of better healthcare and technology.
People are now living longer, thanks to better medicine and widely available health care. However, over the years, healthcare cost has risen exponentially. The Department of Statistics Malaysia discloses that life expectancy has increased by 2.8 years since 2000. A new born baby will live longer to 75.0 years up from 72.2 years.
This makes sense as improvements in public healthcare such as cleaner drinking water, better sanitation, food security, protection against infectious diseases through widespread use of vaccines begin to decrease the number of deaths in early and middle life, leading to an
increase in overall life expectancy.
You could be destined to be a sandwich generation. Here are a few things you might want to know.
If you’re not in the “sandwich generation now”, you might be counted among them soon. According to a survey by
Pew Research Centre, nearly half of adults in their 40s and 50s count themselves as a member of this cohort, with a parent aged 65 or older and a child either living at home or being financially supported.
The significant increase in life expectancy and the reduction of the average number of children per couple imply a longer period in which adults have parents while at the same time they have fewer siblings with whom to share responsibilities.
Here are a few things that you might want to know about being a “sandwich generation”:
Beyond finances: Providing care and emotional support
Demographic change plays an important role in shaping society landscape especially in countries that have large numbers of elderly citizens outnumbering the young. As life expectancy increases and women showcase higher interests in entering the labour market, they tend to delay raising a family. However, although the challenges of providing for parents and children may have increased, most sandwich generation adults have a good sense of responsibility and feel that it’s their obligation to take care of their ageing parents.
Women of the sandwich generation
Although this terminology is still an unfamiliar term in the society, the “sandwich generation” is not a new development. Historically, able adults have always been obligated to contribute to the livelihood and care of their elderly parents.
Within the “sandwich generation”, most of the burden of support rests on daughters. Women especially are responsible for assuming the caretaking needs of multiple generations as they are usually the ones who
care for both parents (and/or in-laws) and children or grandchildren. Women in this category, are those who
juggle work and family commitments, or in other words, they have to balance their roles not only as mothers but also working adults.
However, participation of men in providing care for their parents has also risen. This increase comes as a result of women working more time outside the house, the increase in men’s life expectancy and the change in
Education as top priority for children future’s investment.
The sandwich generation is willing to pay handsomely for their children’s education and at the same time fully commit to their elderly parents financially. The sandwich generation tends to spend more time and money caring for their children, not primarily on education alone but also other extra curricular activities such as tuition, sports and music.
The need to have a strong social safety net.
Most sandwich generation adults are required to work hard to cover high family overhead expenses as a result of being “sandwiched”. In many cases, elderly with lack of savings or access to public healthcare services shift care responsibilities to the sandwich generation to cover these expenses. However, in return, parents will normally
assist the sandwich generation by providing caregiving for their children and other support.
Tax advantages for sandwich generation caregivers
In Malaysia, there is an annual allowable deduction of up to RM5,000 for medical treatment, special needs or carer expenses incurred by an individual for his/her parents provided that they are Malaysia citizens, and the medical treatment and care are provided in Malaysia by a medical practitioner registered with the Malaysian Medical Council.
Malaysia becoming an ageing nation
Malaysia is set to become an ageing nation. By 2030, 15% of its total population now will become senior citizens. Thus, Malaysia needs to be prepared to face the reality of being an ageing nation. The situation comes with its own distinct needs and challenges. For instance, as the Malaysian population grows older, this places job strain on ageing employees, in which they are required to work longer. However, baby boomers whose children are currently in their 30s, 40s and 50s, might presently be in their prime earning years and hold senior positions at work, and they could be a part of the sandwich generation.
Familial care for elderly parents in Malaysia has deteriorated somewhat due to several factors. The modernisation process and the effects of urbanisation and migration for work have created a situation where young adults live apart, thus affecting their ability to provide family care for their parents. Also, the decline in fertility and smaller family sizes have reduced the number of children to share both social and financial responsibilities of care for elderly parents.
The future of elderly care in Malaysia depends on what we do now. Given this changing trend, policymakers need to look into institutional arrangements for providing formal care, which includes social security, health care and social services, for the elderly population.
Are we prepared?
A proper infrastructure set-up
As the elderly require more care and attention, it is important to have elderly friendly facilities. These facilities need to include housing, transportation, and recreation support, of which, appropriate restrooms with anti-slip floor, friendly access to religious houses, lifts and ramps in public areas are some thoughtful examples that the elderly need. Old folk’s homes or nursing homes for longterm care will soon become a necessity, as the ageing phenomenon becomes more prevalent in Malaysia.
The decline in family as the primary caregiver for the elderly who need long-term care has created an increasing demand for institutional care. But this can be financially burdensome especially for those constrained by limited financial resources and those without insurance protection. Although the government has set up several homes to provide care for the elderly, the provision and accessibility to formal long-term care are still scarce between urban and rural areas.
Salaries have not risen in tandem with the increase in living cost. Furthermore, society’s expectations as to what makes a good upbringing or comfortable retirement are placing additional pressure on this squeezed middle generation to provide the best for both their children and parents.
Safety net for the sandwiched generation is also a crucial factor as it will depend on how they are able to juggle the duty to take care of their family without having to sacrifice personal needs. Thus, considering the financial struggle most of them are facing, it is important for the sandwich generation to continue saving money for the sake of their own retirement.
Caring for the elderly is a highly delicate job profession. Therefore, there is a pressing need to equip caregivers
with the proper skills to take care of the elderly. As Malaysia is embarking on its reorganisation as an ageing
nation, it is crucial to provide adequate training hours for caregivers who work in the health and social care industry.
To prepare for the future, physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, and home care workers require practical training to enable them to deliver a safe and effective system of health and social care for the elderly.
Thus, geriatric syllabus needs to be firmly embedded in undergraduate and postgraduate curricula across medical, nursing, and allied health courses so that current and future generations of health care professionals possess the necessary ability to assess and manage elderly patients.
Turn to technology to help take care of aging parents
Technology makes caregiving roles easier. Fortunately, the sandwich generation is comfortable with technology. Technology is widely used in today’s daily work and personal tasks.
Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to turn to technology to help take care of the elderly. For various purposes such as communicating and monitoring, technology can make mundane tasks such as reminding the elderly to take their medicine on time or even turning the stove off
less of a chore.