The Manila Times

Why more are becoming part of the ‘sandwich generation’


Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the hell happened. – Anonymous

IT is now a common scenario worldwide to see many middleaged adults taking care of their aging parents while raising their own children. Collectively, they compose what is popularly called the “sandwich generation.” According to one research, almost half (47 percent) of adults in their 40s and 50s fit this profile.

The rise of this phenomenon across different cultures is being ascribed to two factors. First, our life expectancy is now longer, which means our aging parents will live longer, requiring more years of support from their adult children. And second, it has become harder for our grown-up children to achieve financial independence. Especially during and even after the pandemic, many kids have moved back to live with their parents.

For us Filipinos, this is nothing new. Long before the term was coined back in 1981, it was already a common practice among Filipinos to live with their families, even extended families. There are families that can afford this setup. But there are many who are already having a hard time or are struggling to support this arrangement.

Yet, more and more Filipino adults are becoming part of the sandwich generation. But why is this so?

Close family ties. One of the most admired Filipino values is having a close-knit family. Our family bond is very strong and tight. In fact, they say if you go against one family member, you get the entire family and clan as your enemies. No matter what happens, Filipino family members have each other’s back. To many Filipino families, it may even refer to physical closeness. That’s why it is an ordinary sight to see grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, and even aunts, uncles, etc. living in one house. And because of our close family ties, we feel the strong urge to support and be there for our parents and children, even if we can no longer afford it. They don’t mind struggling in life as long as they are together. The more, the merrier, as they say. But is it still healthy?

Utang na loob. This Filipino trait, which in English means “debt of gratitude,” is very strong among Filipinos. This expression, according to anthropolo

gist Charles Kaut, represents an important system of reciprocal obligations and behavioral expectations that governs the lives of Filipinos. This influences the dynamics within family relationships. Most of the time, as a sign of “utang na loob,” children are expected to take care of their elderly parents, who spent most of their lives taking care of and supporting them when they were younger. Either the children take in their elderly parents in their own family home or they provide them with regular financial assistance. Oftentimes, this results in a smaller budget intended for their own family. They choose to do this for fear of being labeled as “walang utang na loob” (no sense of gratitude). However, unlike other financial debts that end once they’re paid, this “utang na loob” seems to last forever. But should it really be this way?

Family’s economic condition. The increasing rates of poverty, unemployment and underemployment in the family are another major factor why many mid-adults need to financially support their elderly parents while providing for their own children. This was very much evident during and even after the Covid pandemic, which really impacted the financial standing of many Filipino families. Add to this the increasing inflation rate, the oil price hike, basic food concerns, etc. According to a report by the Philippine Statistics Authority, the poverty incidence among the Filipino population increased to 23.7 percent during the first half of 2021. Because of these, some elderly parents required support from their earning children since their meager pensions were not enough to support their medical and daily needs. Also, some children who were already living independently before the pandemic experienced economic setbacks and had to move back to their parents’ homes and rely on their support. But until when should this scenario last?

LOW fiNANCIAL LITERACY. Our financial standing today is a result of our preparation or non-preparation yesterday. Those who prepare well for their senior or retirement years are financially independent to take care of their needs. They do not need to rely on their children for their daily sustenance. On the other hand, those who weren’t able to prepare are now on the lookout for their children. Though most were not able to prepare due to a lack of funds, still many failed to prepare because they did not realize the importance and lacked the know-how.

Financial education or literacy is the key. As Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas governor Benjamin Diokno said at the Financial Literacy Summit, one survey showed that there is a need to improve financial literacy and capability among Filipino families. The study suggests that Filipino adults have little understanding of compound interest, the effects of inflation, investments and other terms. Unless you are working in financial institutions, you will hardly hear or talk about these concepts.

Moreover, Filipino parents would always prioritize and spend their money on the education of their children and providing for their children’s needs instead of saving up for their own retirement. Not only because it’s their obligation but also because they believe and expect that their children will take care of them during their senior years. For many parents, their children are their retirement and investment program. This cycle continues as their children take on the responsibility of taking care of their elderly parents while providing for their own families, again neglecting to save for their own retirement. And the vicious cycle continues…

Unless we are able to shrug off the above from our system, we can only expect more and more Filipinos to be part of the sandwich generation. Of the factors cited above, I personally believe that increasing the financial literacy and awareness of Filipinos is the one thing that we can easily influence and that can bring about a big difference. When we are able to educate and make more Filipinos aware of how to manage their money (no matter how small or big the amount is), they will be more confident and empowered to help not only themselves but others as well. Only then can we reverse the vicious cycle and turn it into a virtuous cycle instead.

More on how to break the sandwich generation cycle in my next article.





The Manila Times