• Alaka BasuAlaka Basu
      Alaka M. Basu is Professor, Development Sociology, Cornell University, and a member of the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission on Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health
      Alessandro RosinaAlessandro Rosina
      Professor of Demography and Director, Center for Applied Statistics in Business and Economics, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
      Andrea BrandoliniAndrea Brandolini
      Head of Statistical Analysis Directorate, Bank of Italy
      Bruno MasquelierBruno Masquelier
      Professor of Demography, University of Louvain, Belgium
      Cheikh MbackéCheikh Mbacké
      Associate Professor, Sociology department, Laval University
      Cinzia ContiCinzia Conti
      Researcher at Istat, Head of Unit on Foreign Presence and Social Dynamics
      Corrado BonifaziCorrado Bonifazi
      Director of the Institute for Research on Population and Social Policies, National Research Council, Rome Italy
      Ernestina CoastErnestina Coast
      Associate Professor of Population Studies, London School of Economics
      Wang FengFeng Wang
      Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine, USA, and Professor at Fudan University, Shanghai, China fwang(at)
      Francesco BillariFrancesco Billari
      Professor of Sociology and Demography, University of Oxford
      Gilles PisonGilles Pison
      Professor at Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle and Director of Research at the French National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) (Paris)
      Gustavo De SantisGustavo De Santis
      Professor of Demography, University of Florence, Italy
      Jacques VallinJacques Vallin
      Emeritus Research Director at INED, Paris; Honorary President of IUSSP
      John KnodelJohn Knodel
      Research Professor Emeritus, Population Studies Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan (USA) and International staff, College of Populations Studies, Chulalongkorn University (Thailand)
      Letizia MencariniLetizia Mencarini
      Associate professor of Demography, Bocconi University - Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics and Public Policy & Collegio Carlo Alberto; P.I. ERC P.I. ERC project n. 313617 (2013-2018) SWELLFER
      Letizia TanturriLetizia Tanturri
      Associate Professor of Demography, University of Padova, Italy
      Massimo livi BacciMassimo livi Bacci
      Emeritus Professor of Demography, University of Florence, Italy
      Monica Das GuptaMonica Das Gupta
      Research Professor of Sociology, University of Maryland, USA
      Paula Miranda-RibeiroPaula Miranda-Ribeiro
      Professor, Demography Department and Cedeplar, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil.
      Peter McDonaldPeter McDonald
      Professor of Demography in the Australian National University. Honorary President of IUSSP and winner of the Irene B. Taeuber Award
      Roberto ImpicciatoreRoberto Impicciatore
      Università di Bologna.
      Salvatore StrozzaSalvatore Strozza
      Professor of Demography, University Federico II, Naples (Italy)
      Stefano MolinaStefano Molina
      Senior Program Officer, Giovanni Agnelli Foundation, Italy
      our authors
    • N-IUSSP is a new IUSSP news magazine, which will disseminate scientific findings from demographic research carried out all over the world. The practical implications of current trends, the risks and potentialities of emerging situations, the pros and cons of specific laws are discussed in rigorous but plain language.

      Everybody is free to reproduce our articles, for free, provided the original source is cited.

      You are invited to contribute to this new publication: please check our guidelines and submit your 1000 word contribution to

The myth of the sandwich generation in Brazil
Le mythe de la génération sandwich au Brésil

Maria Carolina Tomás, Everton Emanuel Campos de Lima, Bernardo Lanza Queiroz
sandwich generation in Brazil

Due to rapid and profound demographic changes, population age structure in Brazil has changed sharply in the past few years. Contrary to widespread belief, however, Maria Carolina Tomás, Everton Emanuel Campos de Lima and Bernardo Lanza Queiroz note that this process  has not expanded the so-called sandwich generation: the number of middle-aged mothers who have to care for both their young children and the elderly parents with whom they co-reside is shrinking.

The demographics of the Brazilian sandwich generation

The increasing delay in fertility and the reduction in mortality have changed not only the population age structure (Castanheira and Kohler, 2017; França el al, 2017), but also family dynamics. Among other things, middle-aged women now face a much higher probability of having their elderly parents alive while still having to care for their young children. This so-called “sandwich generation”, with responsibilities towards both the younger and older generations, is a phenomenon that has attracted the attention of researchers and policy makers in recent years (Goldstein, Mason and Zagheni, 2011; Dukhovnov and Zagheni, 2015).

The operative definition of the sandwich generation may vary, depending on research objectives and data availability. It is usually defined as the middle-aged population, especially women, who have a dependent child (under 18 years old) and a living parent (aged over 65 who may need assistance). Both groups are generally assumed to be incapable of providing for their own needs, and therefore to compete for care and put the sandwich generation under pressure. Here, we adopt a slightly different definition, following Mason and Zagheni (2014): a woman is “sandwiched” if she has one or more children under the age of ten and one or more (old) parents who are less than five years away from the average age at death.

We discuss this phenomenon in Brazil, where both mortality and fertility have changed rapidly in the past few years. Fertility declined from 6.1 to 1.8 children per woman between 1950 and 2010 (when considerable postponement was also observed) whereas life expectancy increased from 50.8 years to 74.6. (Figure 1). In addition to this rapid demographic change, public transfers to the elderly are relatively high, but this has co-existed with a tradition of family support (Turra, Queiroz and Rios-Neto, 2011).

graphic 1 of sandwich generation

Different perspectives of the Brazilian sandwich generation

To get a glimpse of what has actually happened in Brazil in the past century or so we used Socsim, a social simulation demographic model, originally conceived by Gilbert and Hammel and further developed by Hammel, Wachter and Peter Laslett. We tried alternative scenarios of fertility and mortality (all compatible with Brazil’s history), but the differences between them turned out to be minor, so we will concentrate only on one of them, the most realistic, in our opinion (Lima, Tomás and Lanza Queiroz 2015).

graphic 2 of sandwich generation

Figure 2 shows some of our results: while the average age of mothers at childbirth has not changed much over time (from 25 years at the beginning of the century to 30 years today – but with a large decline in fertility), the age at becoming a grandparent increased rapidly from 1920 to 1940, and then stayed roughly constant.

Figure 3 shows the prevalence of the sandwich generation from the perspective of the child, by year. What emerges very clearly is that the average time women spend sandwiched between elderly parents and young children has declined in Brazil over the past 60 years, contrary to common perceptions and to what seems to happen in most developed countries.

graphic 3 of sandwich generation

A limitation of our analysis is that we use a definition of sandwich generation which is not fully comparable to that used by most of the literature in developed countries. However, we do not think that this invalidates our substantive findings: Mason and Zagheni (2014), for instance, who use the same definition as we do, observed a decline in sandwichness for most countries in the world, explained by the reduction in fertility levels and the increase in longevity.


Castanheira H.C., & Kohler H.P. (2017). Social determinants of low fertility in Brazil. Journal of Biosocial Science, 49(S1), S131-S155.

Dukhovnov D., & Zagheni E. (2015). Who takes care of whom in the United States? Time transfers by age and sex. Population and development review, 41(2), 183-206.

França E.B., et al (2017). Cause-specific mortality for 249 causes in Brazil and states during 1990–2015: a systematic analysis for the global burden of disease study 2015. Population Health Metrics, 15(1), 39.

Goldstein J., Mason C. and Zagheni E. (2011). Can grandma help with the kids? A demographic analysis of the sandwich generation. In Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, Washington DC.

Lima E.E.C., Tomás M.C. and Lanza Queiroz B. (2015). The sandwich generation in Brazil: demographic determinants and implications. Revista Latinoamericana de Población, 9(16).

Mason C. and Zagheni E. (2014), “The sandwich generation: demographic determinants of global trends”, Annual Meeting of the Population Association, Boston. Mass.

Turra, C. M.; Queiroz, B L.; Rrios-Neto, E LG.. Idiosyncrasies of intergenerational transfers in Brazil. In: Lee, R. & Mason, A. (eds) Population Aging and the Generational Economy, p. 394, 2011.


By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.