My friend Rebecca is a beautiful person inside and out—professionally and personally successful, involved in her community and making a difference. She has always approached challenges at work or home with an enviable calm. Then all at once, she was hit with significant challenges on every side. At work they were talking layoffs, her children were struggling at school and her aging mother was showing signs of dementia. When she shared this with me, I said, “Let’s get coffee.”
As Rebecca opened up over some java, she shared about a life under tremendous stress. “I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders. My kids and husband really need me right now, but I’m the main earner in our family, and I’m worried about getting my hours cut back. We can’t afford that. And my brother just called to tell me our mom drove her car into the side of the grocery store. I’m not Wonder Woman!”
Does this sound familiar? This is the life of the sandwich generation woman; squeezed between children, spouses and aging loved ones that rely on her for support.
As a member of the Family Wealth Advisor’s Council (FWAC), I, along with my colleagues, have conducted studies of Women of Wealth in hopes of gaining additional insight to aid financial advisors in understanding the challenges and opportunities facing our female clients. Being “caught in the middle” of the generational sandwich was a big issue for these women, whether married, single or divorced.
The majority of women surveyed said the single most significant near-term transition they faced was providing financially and emotionally for both children and aging parents. Nearly 80 percent of these women (married or divorced) also believed that they would be called upon to help one or more children in crisis.
It is vital for advisors who want to best help these women to first understand their stress.
The sandwich generation woman, like my friend Rebecca, faces enormous financial, emotional and professional pressures.
Financially, these women are feeling the squeeze from several directions. The wage gap between themselves and their male counterparts may be shrinking, according to a recent Pew Research Center report, but it still exists. Women are earning only 82 percent of what men are earning. The typical sandwich generation woman (who is in her 40s or 50s and often working outside the home) will spend at least 20 hours a week raising children and caring for aging loved ones. Because of her caregiving responsibilities, she is required to work less, creating professional pressure. A MetLife Mature Market Institute study found that women in this life stage stand to lose wages and Social Security benefits of around $324,000 over a lifetime. This reality should challenge advisors to think outside the box when providing retirement solutions for their sandwich generation clients.
Emotionally, the sandwich generation woman is often called upon daily to support a child in need or an elder dealing with the complexities of aging. Imagine starting your day with an upset child who just lost their job and wants to move back into the house, and ending your day combing through your parents credit card bills and bank statements because they are confused about their finances and you are worried they are getting taken advantage of. Your female clients who are caught in middle need support, encouragement and sound advice.