In 1981, Dorothy Miller coined the term sandwich generation to refer to inequality in the exchange of resources and support between generations (Raphael and Schlesinger 1994). Specifically, Miller was referring to a segment of the middle-aged generation that provides support to both young and older family members yet does not receive reciprocal support in exchange. Miller emphasized the unique stressors of multigenerational caregiving and the lack of community resources available to assist the middle generation. Because multigenerational caregivers are most often women dealing with the complex role configurations of wife, mother, daughter, caregiver, and employee, some researchers use the phrase women in the middle interchangeably with the sandwich generation (Dautzenberg et al. 1998).
Despite the importance of the experiences of middle-aged adults and their caregiving responsibilities, some variation in the conceptualization and definition of sandwich generation families exist. Conceptually, some researchers emphasize the demographic implications of this family type, whereas others point to the consequences of this family arrangement on individual well-being and family functioning (Dautzenberg et al. 1998). A number of researchers define this population as middle-aged adults caring for young children (less than the age of 18) and aging parents simultaneously. Other researchers, however, insist this population consists of middle-aged parents caring for aging parents as well as young adult children (18 years of age or older) (Chisholm 1999). Finally, in addition to disagreement over the age of the child or children, there is also disagreement as to whether the youngest generation must be living in the home or not, or if providing financial support to children is sufficient for middle-aged adults to be considered sandwich generation members (Nichols and Junk 1997).