Gen X is set to be a hoagie, not sandwich generation—chipping in longer for their aging parents and children



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The footlong was once five dollars, or so the legend goes. At the risk of shaking a proverbial cane and wagging a finger, a similarly sized Subway item is now often more than two or three times that cost. That’s all to say, even sandwiches evolve because of inflation. 

No other than the current famed sandwich generation can attest to this shift. First coined in the ‘80s, the moniker refers to any cohort bookended by dual caregiving responsibilities. Now, Gen X has aged into the prime time to be sandwiched, as they look after both their parents and children. And the oft forgotten middle child of generational speak are finding themselves stretched thin. The nation’s high cost of living and increased lifespan means that Gen X’s duties are elongated, looking more like, well, a hoagie or $15 footlong. 

“For the generation of families and individuals stuck in the middle of caring for (and/or providing for) both younger and older relatives, the impact and potential damage to their own personal finances are magnified,” Bankrate senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick tells Fortune.

It all means that this Gen X, which is also living longer, isn’t really ready for their future life milestones. Putting on your own oxygen mask before others proves trying especially when family members might be forced into debt otherwise. “The risk is that these costs were not something they prepared or saved for. Given their stations in life, it becomes more difficult to prioritize their financial goals, including saving for retirement,” he adds.

Gen X’s unsavory sandwich, as made by the nation

At one end of the sub are adult children who need more of a helping hand these days. More than a quarter (27%) of adults 23 and older report getting monetary assistance from their parents, according to a Bankrate survey of more than 2,300 adults. 

And the ‘rents are mainly chipping in when it comes to rent, as Gen Zers and millennials are forced to depend on their parents due to the inaccessibility of affordable housing. Among adult children that get assistance, 49% of them are mostly getting support when it comes to housing. This sometimes comes in the form of rent assistance, living at home for longer, or help with a down payment. And almost half (48%) look to their parents for help when it comes to managing the stubbornly high cost of everyday expenses like groceries and utilities.

Dealing with student loans and an uphill battle to building wealth (without much aid from the government), many young adults are forced to lean on their parents. And their parents in turn are offering up more, 61% of guardians with adult children report making financial sacrifices to help out. Gen X leads the way, at 69%, reporting dipping into their retirement and emergency savings. 

This dependence is a byproduct of decades of structural barriers that have seemingly become more stratified as the cost of major milestones like getting a house or retirement goes unchecked. These changes include “shifting more of the burden of the costs of higher education, retirement funding, and health care onto individuals,” says Hamrick. “As one example, the cost of attending a public university some decades ago was largely paid by taxpayers, where individuals now have to pay a much greater share of that cost.” Gen X, too,has a sizable amount of debt, starting their journey while loans ballooned. 

Meanwhile, the other heel of the hero isn’t doing too hot either. Gen Xers who are looking after their elderly parents are likely shouldering a heavier burden than previous generations due to the nation’s shortage of affordable care. And as their parents live longer, the risk of living out their savings and the hiking cost of nursing homes looms larger. 

Women are often assigned the brunt of unpaid child and elder care duties, accounting for 59% of said labor from 2021 to 2022,  per a report from Wells Fargo. Gen Xers are in the hot seat particularly, as women aged 55+ account for 30% of all unpaid caregivers. This phenomenon pushes Gen X women out of the workforce and also dampens their retirement goals. Half of America’s mothers have no retirement savings, compared to 32% of fathers and 39% of those without kids, according to a 2023 analysis from the Century Foundation of Financial Health Network’s data.

The generation with the largest wealth gap has greater anxiety regarding retirement, more so than their boomer parents. That might be in part because when draining their own savings for care, Gen X is also needing some help from relatives if they can get it. In other words, the cycle leaves a gap for intergenerational wealth to spin out of control, or become a rare hail mary for the privileged few. “Members of any of these generations may benefit if their more senior family members have funds or other assets such as homes to pass along through inheritance,” explains Hamrick.



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