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Posted on Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 6 a.m.

Sandwich Generation: Are you in the middle?

By Wayne Baker

0204ovalues Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Generation.jpg

SANDWICH GENERATION? (Photo of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week Dr. Baker is discussing the sandwich generation.

Are you a member of the Sandwich Generation — in the middle between aging parents and children who need your support?

If so, you have plenty of company. Almost half (47 percent) of all middle-aged Americans have one or more parents 65 or older—and they are raising a child or providing financial support to a grown child. That’s the “sandwich” in which millions of middle-aged Americans find themselves squeezed like peanut butter and jelly. They have relatives on both sides drawing some form of sustenance—emotional support and other forms of caring including financial help in many cases.

In the U.S., we’ve always had sandwiched middle-aged adults. So, what’s changed in the just-released Pew report we will discuss this week?

The proportion of sandwiched adults has not changed much since 2005. What has changed is escalating financial support for grown children. Given the ailing economy and dim job prospects, more grown children need their parents’ financial support just to get by. One in four (27 percent) middle-aged adults provides primary financial support for an adult child. An additional 21 percent provide at least some financial support.

How much support goes the other way—to one’s aging parents? About one-third of all American adults with a parent 65 years of age of older have provided financial support to them in the last year. A big share of this support goes for ongoing expenses.

More aging mothers get financial support than aging fathers when one survives the other. More than 40 percent of mothers aged 65 and older, whose husbands died at 65 or older, receive financial support from their adult children. Twenty-five percent of fathers who are widowers get financial support from their adult children.

Do middle-aged Americans have a moral obligation to support their aging parents? Three-quarters of all Americans say they do, according to Pew. This issue is another one in which there is widespread agreement across political party lines, race, gender lines, and levels of education. Just about every American agrees that we have this duty.

The figure is lower when it comes to the moral obligation of middle-aged parents to provide financial support for their grown children. Just a bit more than half (52 percent) of all Americans say it’s a parent’s responsibility to do so.

You may also enjoy reading some tips for surviving the sandwich—from my colleague Heather Jose, an author and the host of the We Are Caregivers website.

This week, we need to hear from you! Please, leave a comment below:

Are you a member of the sandwich generation?

Are you a young adult receiving help from your parents?

Are you over 65 and receiving some form of support from your adult children?

What's your experience?

Wayne Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at ourvaluesproject@gmail.com or on Facebook.