Sandwich Generation is getting younger: Stress of managing childcare and responsibilities for older parents now hits hardest at just 34

  • The stress of being a parent with older parents hits hardest at 34, according to a new survey by Churchill
  • Sandwich Generation Brits spend almost two working days a month helping older parents with chores, equating to 20 days of annual leave
  • Over half (52 per cent) are concerned about their parents’ living situation as the UK ‘unlocks’, citing worries about their parents feeling left behind and isolated
  • The survey of 2,000 adults with children and older parents was conducted by Churchill in June 2021*

The stress of being in the Sandwich Generation – raising children and supporting older parents – is taking hold earlier than ever, with 34 being the age where Brits feel the most worried about handling these responsibilities.

The Sandwich Generation is commonly thought to bite between the ages of 45 and 54[1], but a new survey by retirement living specialist Churchill Retirement Living shows parents in their early 30s are feeling the pressure of managing both childcare and older parents. 29 per cent of adults cited their 30s as the age they were most stressed in this role, compared to 24 per cent of those who said their 40s and just 8 per cent who said their 50s.

The Churchill survey of adults with both children and older parents found 60 per cent find managing childcare and supporting their parents on tasks like shopping and household maintenance makes their life harder, while over a quarter (28 per cent) even went as far as saying they feel they cannot cope. They spend almost two working days a month (12.5 hours) helping older parents with chores, equating to 20 days of annual leave.

This group of Brits say the most time-consuming task is helping their parents with the upkeep of their home, with one in 7 (14 per cent) reporting spending more than five hours every month helping their parents with house maintenance, adding up to eight working days each year.

Many worry that they can’t fulfil their role effectively as both a parent and child due to time pressure. Two fifths (40 per cent) of the Sandwich Generation say managing the needs of their children and parents makes them feel that they are not able to give everyone enough of their time, while a similar proportion say they regularly worry about how they will get everything done (39 per cent).

Time pressure isn’t the only concern the Sandwich Generation face. More than half (52 per cent) are also concerned about their parents’ living situation as we start to return to the ‘new normal’, with one in five (19 per cent) strongly agreeing that this is a concern of theirs.

The largest proportion of these adult children (50 per cent) are concerned that their parents are lonely, followed by almost 40 per cent, who worry that as the UK ‘unlocks’ their parents will feel left behind and increasingly isolated.

When asked what would help to ease some of these pressures and concerns, Sandwich Generation Brits cited a number of solutions that would make their lives easier, including someone to help with their parents’ house maintenance (39 per cent) and garden (36 per cent), as well as finding new opportunities for their parents to socialise (37 per cent).

As a result of these challenges, more than half (56 per cent) are considering helping their parents to downsize into more appropriate housing, such as a retirement living development. Meanwhile, some are one step ahead, with over a quarter (28 per cent) already looking at different accommodation options for their parents so they can be closer to family, friends and amenities.

For many adults in the Sandwich Generation, the benefits of a new living situation for their parents are clear. A quarter (25 per cent) say it will give them more freedom to enjoy the things they love, while others would like to use this extra time to spend quality time with their parents instead of just helping them with tasks. Over a third (34 per cent) would like to reclaim the time to take their parents out for lunch or dinner, while one in five (20 per cent) are just happy to go for a walk with them.

Churchill’s Chairman & CEO Spencer J McCarthy, said:

“As the UK unlocks and we start to return to a more normal way of life, people in the Sandwich Generation are feeling anxious about being able to manage both childcare and support for their parents. What is most worrying is that the Sandwich Generation age is getting younger, with more adults citing their mid-30s as the time in their life when they felt most stressed about handling these responsibilities.

“While it’s clearly a time of readjustment, the easing of lockdown can also be seen as an opportunity for change. After months of reflection, many Brits and their parents are now reconsidering a new living situation – one that offers independence and a more sociable, low maintenance lifestyle that will give older people a new lease of life after a year spent mostly inside. Our experienced Lodge Managers take care of all the building and garden maintenance and can help with little jobs such as grocery deliveries too, so families can focus on spending quality time together.”

Lisa, 57, from Kent, whose mum downsized into a Churchill Retirement Living development in Sittingbourne, said:

"Needing to look after both your parents and children is a huge undertaking. When mum was still in her house, it was a real struggle and there was a constant worry that she was lonely or that she would need help and wouldn’t be able to reach anyone. I’m not surprised to learn that this group found the pandemic especially challenging.

"I’m fortunate that Mum decided to downsize in 2019. Now she’s in a retirement community, she has companionship and support, which provides huge comfort. It means I don’t need to try and maintain two homes and can get some time back to focus on my businesses and children. I still see Mum regularly but now we spend quality time doing nice things together, rather than worrying about day-to-day tasks."