On that day, and just about every day these past few months, I had to choose between caring for one family member or another. With so many crises under way, caring for myself hasn’t really been on the table.
Like me, many educated, middle-class women in Generation X, those born from 1965 to 1980, are experiencing a different middle age than our mothers and grandmothers did. As a generation, X is small, a great baby bust, and we are now caring for the far larger generations that tower over us on either side—often while working full-time. Since the 1980s, middle-aged adults have been called the “sandwich generation,” wedged between caring for their parents and raising their kids. But this metaphor feels too innocuous for what Gen X is going through. I find myself drawn to a less friendly analogy: not that of fresh Wonder Bread slices gently squishing us, but that of panini grills pressing us flat.
When a woman leaves work to care for a sick relative, the potential cost of lost wages and Social Security benefits could average $324,000 during her lifetime. “Boomers weren’t great about saving,” Goyer said. Gen Xers “may find themselves contributing more and more toward their parents’ care and finances … and the costs of care are on the rise.” Caring for an aging relative costs $7,000 a month on average, but increases when the relative has dementia or lives a long distance away. In addition, the divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early ’80s, meaning that many Gen Xers are children of divorce—something that can complicate caring for parents now.
In 2010, the ratio of possible caregivers to people needing care was 7 to 1, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute. By 2030, the ratio is predicted to be 4 to 1; and by 2050—about when we will be needing care ourselves—the ratio will be 3 to 1. If nothing changes, this caregiving crisis is likely to hit Millennials and Gen Z even harder than it has hit Gen X. Knowing that I’m right in the center of my generation’s caregiving struggle is some comfort. At least I’m not alone.
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