There are diverse opinions on the fortunes of the Sandwich Generation.
Those at the “hard done by’ end of the spectrum speak of being too young to enjoy the swinging sixties, enduring the AIDs epidemic rather than Free Love, facing recession rather than Big Bang, paying for rampant house price inflation rather than benefiting and seeing their employment security undermined by technology. Today these woes continue – any thought of retirement has vanished into an uncertain future of receding retirement dates, while also coping with parents who believe they are Peter Pan (and will live forever) and children who won’t leave home.
I am drawn to the other end of the spectrum. Yes, all of the above is true and this generation will be the first ever to be financially worse off than their parents, but that is only half the story – the Sandwich Generation has the benefit of insight.
They are the first generation in history who should plan on living to 100. Many will not make it, but that is not the point. They are (or should be) planning for an adult life that is twice as long as their parents. When today’s octogenarians were 20 they were told to expect a 40 years working life before a brief retirement and game over. Speak to them today and many will tell of their regret at retiring at 60 and ‘wasting’ their time on bowls, bridge, golf or whatever. For many life handed them a bundle of goodies but forgot to tell them the rules had changed.
The Sandwich generation is different; many of the goodies have gone but they have the greatest gift of all – time. Of all the people I meet the ones who impress me most are the ones who have been able to take a step back, see how the world has changed and then had the courage to change their plans. There was the doctor in his late 50s. He had completed 28 years as a GP, seen his family grow up and leave home and then decided it was time to follow his passion. He took early retirement from the Health Service and moved to the US to write scores for the film industry. There is every reason to believe he’ll be doing that for another 30 years.
These smart ones also realize the broader implications of living longer including:
Living longer is only enjoyable if you are fit and well so they looked after both physical and mental health.
In an age of mass consumption living longer inevitably means acquiring more until you are stifled by your possessions – they learnt to keep only what they loved – plus what is essential.
Intergenerational wealth transfer has traditionally been the preserve of ‘old money’ – the smart ones know the lessons apply to all. Rather than accepting a delayed inheritance from their parents, they are missing a generation and passing the funds directly to their children – at a time where it makes a real difference.
While the Sandwich Generation may not have all the economic benefits of their parents they are much better positioned to make the most of a longer life.