What Is The Sandwich Generation?

Here’s a term you have probably never heard before: Sandwich Generation.

Huh?What’s that? 


Visualisea sandwich. Peanut Butter sandwich, ham and cheese sandwich, chicken saladsandwich. Whatever you like. Now this sandwich represents a multi-generation family. The top piece of break of the sandwich represents the elderly parents of a home (the grandparents), the “filling” of the sandwich represents the middle aged adult parents, and the bottom piece of break represents the next generation of sons and daughters, aka, the grandchildren. 


A Sandwich Generation is a generation of people who (middle aged - 40s and 50s )who are caring for their aging parents meanwhile support their own children.The Sandwich Generation is a growing trend caused by the rise of the number of aging parents and dependent adult children that is in many ways being impacted by the real estate market, especially in hot zones like Hong Kong where property prices are shockingly high. 


HongKongers and even increasingly so with Americans, more and more families sharing one home - which means living with three or more generations under one roof -children, parents and grandparents all cohabiting together. There are two main factors driving this trend behind “Sandwich Generation”. One is economically-based and the other is cultural-based. Due to increasing rent prices, many families are forced to consolidate and live under one roof. The second factor can be attributed to the fact that it’s more common for Asian homes to span across multiple generations. In many cultures, multi-generational households are the norm, where children live at home until married and grandparents are respected as the head of the household.Due to economic and financial transitions in many parts of the world, moreadults are returning to live in the family home and aging parents being taken in to be cared for by their children. HongKongers are no stranger to this considering how expensive home prices are that even renting is not an easy feat for most people with average household incomes. The biggest concentrations of these multi-generation “Sandwich Homes” are found in high rent markets, where people simply cannot afford to live alone. It becomes a stressful situation, the financial and emotional cost of care for the elderly and young adults can be taxing. 


How can you avoid Sandwich Generation Problems?


It’s never too early to start planning and making contingencies. Regardless of your age, there are steps you can take tohelp manage the needs of your aging parents and adult children if you are stuck in a sandwich generation problem:


Havean open conversation about it

Communication is important where are so many parties involved. Consider getting the family together for a meeting to talk, brainstorm solutions, figure out mutual ground to keep everyone happy, vent frustrations and concerns, and delegate tasks. It’s hard enough living with your parents as a full grown adult, and one can only imagine how much tougher it is when there are three or more generations together all under one roof. There can be power in numbers, but only when everyone takes on a role of responsibility, and learn to act their part cooperatively and respectfully. Numbers can work with you oragainst you, so how well can you steer the ship as a family? For the entire unit to function properly, every member needs to assume a set of tasks to help keep the crew afloat. Even if one person fails to do their part, it could mean demise for the rest of group. Every challenge is a chance for opportunities -opportunity for younger family members to assume new responsibilities and help lighten the workload of older family members, opportunity for teenagers and young adults in the household to earn extra income by doing work outside of the home, and opportunity for the family to become a closer unit in spite of the obstacles ahead. 


You need to plan ahead when faced with financial struggles common in sandwich generation homes. Having a plan to save up should be a priority. It’s important to make a plan to save for retirement, stick to a revised budget and scale back on luxury spendings such as extravagant holidays and material possessions that are not necessary. You should be setting limits on your spending as a family, and learning to stay within the means as a shared family budget. 

It’s not easy to live in a multi-generational home and it will take time for everyone to get used to each other’s rhythm of life. Even in Hong Kong, it’s becoming customary for families spanning across multiple generations to live under one roof, following a family first, independence second, unspoken rule that many adhere by. It’s important to be open in your communication within the household. It’s necessary to talk about financial things, but also allow breathing space for everyone in the home. You don’t need to completely dictate their everyday lives because everyone in the household still wish to have some resemblance of independence and the feeling of being incharge, but it’s important that everything is proactive in moving towards the same goal - which means how the family finances should be organised and how everyone in the family should be cared for. Planning is necessary  especially with aging parents. Illnesses are a natural part of the aging process. Just because you don’t plan doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Planning is all the more necessary for young adults in terms of preparing for college financial plans.It’s a difficult juggling act for the Sandwich Generation. 


Hong Kong and other densely populated Asian countries are not the only markets facing this growing trend due to increased rent prices and housing shortages.More and more Americans in the U.S are living in multi-generational “Sandwich” homes. According to the latest U.S.Census Data, these so-called “sandwich generation” homes represent 4.3% of all households, and the number is already up 3.6% from 2006.In the U.S, Asian families are not the only ones representative of this growing trend. This trend can also be found in Hispanic households, where multi-generational homes are more common. Asians and Hispanics are two of the fastest-growing U.S populations and also the highest concentrations of “Sandwich Generation” homes. In the U.S, the biggest concentrations are found in high rent areas in and around cities such as Chicago, Long Island, N.Y., Philadelphia, Miami, Los Angeles and Honolulu, Hawaii, with the latter having the highest percentage of sandwich generation households in the nation.

Hong Kong - sandwich.jpg

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