The Sandwich Generation: Who are Canada’s family caregivers and how are they doing?

Excerpt: Nearly 30% of Canadians provide informal, unpaid care, and those between 45 and 64 provide 75% of informal care for older adults. Many feel squeezed by the responsibilities of caring for an aging parent and childrearing, especially women in the workforce, who typically spend more time on caregiving tasks than men. Better supports for family caregivers, who are vulnerable to career and health consequences, can improve the well-being of those giving and receiving care.


Every day, nearly 30% of Canadians provide informal, unpaid care for a family member, friend or neighbour, and nearly half of us will be caregivers at some point,* according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

Canadians between 45 and 64, known as the Sandwich Generation, provide 75% of the informal care for older adults,* reported a BMO study. Many are feeling squeezed by the responsibilities of caring for an aging parent and childrearing,* says the BC Care Providers Association.

Family caregivers are more likely to be women who are employed and married,* says Statistics Canada. Female caregivers expend more energy at home than men and almost the same amount of energy at work, and typically devote a lot more energy to the parent and home maintenance roles,* reported a Carleton University study.

Taking a toll at work

Caregivers who take care of both their children and an aging parent are more likely to miss work, turn down promotions, be less productive, and experience stress or burnout,* says Carleton. Since women in the workforce are more likely than men to assume caregiving roles and spend more time on caregiving tasks, they are more vulnerable to career and financial consequences,* says CMAJ.

Among Canadians caring for a parent, 45% spent between 5 and 30 hours a week, and 55% spent 4 hours or less,* reported Statistics Canada. They accounted for 35% of all hours of informal caregiving, or about 84 million hours per week.* More than 70% of Canadians caring for a spouse spent between 5 and 30 hours a week.*

Health and psychological consequences

People who spend more hours providing care are more susceptible to health problems,* says Statistics Canada. About 30% of Canadians caring for parents and 46% of those caring for a spouse experienced 5 or more symptoms of psychological distress.* Over 20% of those caring for an aging parent and 38% of those caring for a spouse reported their overall health suffered.*

Better supports for caregivers

Over the next two decades, the number of older Canadians needing assistance will double, yet the pool of informal caregivers is shrinking.* Informal caregivers need better access to support options, caregiver-specific education and supports, and flexible workplaces that accommodate caregiving duties,* CMAJ advises. The evidence shows these types of social supports can improve the well-being of both the caregiver and the older adult receiving care.*

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*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:
1. University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine. “It’s time Canada cared more about its caregivers: CMAJ editorial.” (2019), online: https://www.deptmedicine.utoronto.ca/news/it’s-time-canada-cared-more-about-its-caregivers-cmaj-editorial
2. BC Care Providers Association. “Sandwich generation and family caregivers.” (2017), online: https://bccare.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Sandwich-Generation-Family-Caregivers.pdf
4. CBC News. “‘Sandwich generation’ playing greater role in elder care: StatsCan.” (2008), online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sandwich-generation-playing-greater-role-in-elder-care-statscan-1.723663
7. Statistics Canada. “Family caregiving: what are the consequences? (2013), online: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/75-006-x/2013001/article/11858-eng.pdf?st=D3m5lxir