The Sandwich Generation: Boomers Feel the Squeeze

by Dr. Alice Jacobs Vestergaard, Ashford University

May 21, 2013, 11:15 ET from Ashford University

SAN DIEGO, May 21, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Realities of being in the Sandwich Generation create anxiety, stress and depression -- more so than in any previous generations. A mere mention of the term conjures an image of people being squished into little flat pieces by overwhelming pressures of larger than life bread slices squeezing the life energy out of some poor baby boomer's soul.


First, let's clarify – who is the Sandwich Generation and why were they given that moniker in the first place? U.S. Census Data reveals that about 79 million baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are alive today. They make up more than a quarter of the U.S. population.

In terms of the reference to the Sandwich Generation, this same group has anywhere from one to three other generational groups depending upon them for financial, emotional, and/or caregiving support. Other generational members may consist of the boomer's parents, children, and grandchildren.

That's a lot of pressure, and the lives of many baby boomers are more like pressure cookers than sandwiches. Responsibility overload is taking a toll on the generation that came of age during a time of prosperity and hope.

Children of the GI Generation missed the hardships of the Great Depression and came home after school in suburbia to watch the Mickey Mouse Club, enjoy TV dinners and experience the economic boom of industrialization. From idyllic childhoods playing cowboys and Indians in a carefree community without real school place violence, you might think this generation would have evolved into happy go lucky, well-adjusted adults.

Oh contraire! Large portions of the boomer cohort are angry and bitter, struggling to exist. They're not the "happy campers" they thought they would be at this stage in their lives. Some people have even replaced the term baby boomers with "Prozac poppers" due to the amount of antidepressants now ingested by this group. Statistics of alcohol, drug addiction, and suicide are alarming – all painting a grim picture of the true reality inside that Barbie or GI Joe lunch pail.

According to the National Institutes of Health, between 2002 and 2011, the number of illicit drug users ages 50 to 59 tripled. No, this is not a generation of content joyful folks.

With increasing uncertainties about their financial security, boomers who worked hard and long hours to build retirement nest eggs in order to enjoy the "good life" have watched their life savings dwindle away in value. Many are forced to remain in the workforce longer than anticipated.

During the economic recession, many boomers were laid off from jobs prematurely and are now faced with having to take menial jobs for minimum wage. In some locations, even those jobs are competitive.

Adding to their dismay, many boomers bought, decorated and remodeled homes in their younger years, planning to enjoy retirement in comfort and leisure. Instead, they foreclosed and are forced to move in with their kids. Many are forced with the opposite: to take in their kids and grandkids, giving up their empty-nester lifestyles for more mouths to feed, at a time in their lives when they thought they would have discretionary income.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 7 million is the magic number. That is the actual number of grandparents whose grandchildren younger than 18 were living with them in 2010 – and that number keeps growing as the trends continue. All this while having to cope with the infirmaries and needs of their own aging parents.

Boomers are sleep deprived, exhausted and challenged with having to find time to contend with their own changing healthcare needs. As the knees and hips of countless aging joggers begin to ache, there are the beginnings of degenerative diseases. Lifestyle stress issues from heart disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 Diabetes are increasingly affecting this population at a disturbing rate. Pressure is really taking its toll on the boomer.

Wait a minute, what's wrong with this picture? That little sweet child, who grew up wearing her pretty pink tutu in ballet dance class, is now wearing the pretty pink hospital gown to have her EKG, MRI, and CAT scan…and that's only if she's lucky enough to have health insurance.

According to a study published in the American Sociological Review in 2008, boomers are more depressed and less satisfied with their lives than both those younger and older than them.

In spite of being a better educated, and more financially successful generation than any other generation proceeding it, boomers are worried about being able to afford retirement, healthcare, their aging parents developing Alzheimer's disease and all that it entails in terms of financial and economic resources, in addition to providing food, shelter, clothing and /or financial assistance to and for their kids and grandkids.

Growing up singing tunes, such as "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," their new theme songs are "Where Have all my Retirement Investments Gone," followed by "Puff the Magic Health Care Dragon Making it Hard for Me to Breathe Due to High Monthly Premiums."

Coming of age when the Beatles were a phenomenon, boomers tend to identify with "Hard Day's Night" for a lot more reasons than they did in their younger years.

About Dr. Alice Vestergaard
Alice Vestergaard, professor in the College of Health, Human Services, and Science at Ashford University, has specialized in long-term care, emerging health technology, and the study of brain-health in aging. She has more than 25 years experience in both the private and public education sectors and has lectured extensively on her fields of expertise.

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SOURCE Ashford University