Poll: Elder Care Obligations Putting Strain on Young American Adults

Poll: Elder Care Obligations Putting Strain on Young American Adults

One third of Americans under 40 have spent time caring for an older relative or friend, while another third expect to do so in the next few years, a new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds. Furthermore, the burden of caregiving appears to be causing these younger adults more stress than their older peers:

These younger caregivers, age 18‑39, differ from caregivers age 40 and older in several ways. Younger caregivers spend fewer hours providing care compared to caregivers age 40 and older, who are more than twice as likely to spend 10 or more hours a week providing unpaid care (26 percent vs. 63 percent). Although they spend less time providing care, younger caregivers are more likely to report being at least moderately stressed by caregiving (80 percent) than are caregivers age 40 and older (67 percent). While caregivers age 40 and older are disproportionately female compared to the overall population (59 percent female vs. 41 percent male), this is not true of younger caregivers, who are just as likely to be male (48 percent female vs. 52 percent male).

Most caregivers say they are getting the support they need in their elder care obligations, with young adults saying they mostly rely on family for this support and often use social media to solicit the help they need. Younger prospective caregivers, not surprisingly, are more likely than their over-40 counterparts to say they feel unprepared to take on the role, but most say they expect to share these responsibilities with someone else.

The AP-NORC survey also found that most young American adults have little confidence that government safety-net programs will be there for them in their old age: only around 10 percent expect Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid to provide benefits at that time comparable to or better than they offer today. Younger Americans are also unsure of whether they will be financially prepared to their own elder care needs in retirement, with only 16 percent saying they were very confident that they would have the resources to meet those needs.

Previous research has shown that becoming a volunteer caregiver for family members or other loved ones pushes working adults to reduce their work hours, leading to reduced income, and can lead to physical health problems including weight gain and anxiety. Caregiving for chronically ill, disabled, or elderly loved ones often falls to women in middle age: The typical profile of a caregiver is a woman in her fifties caring for one or both of her parents. This often causes a decline in women’s incomes at what ought to be a high point in their careers, contributing to the gender gaps in lifetime earnings and retirement readiness.

As this new study shows, however, the strain of caring for an aging population is being felt across the workforce, and not only by women: While caregivers age 40 and older are disproportionately female, the poll found, the gender split among younger caregivers is about equal (48 percent female to 52 percent male, a difference within the margin of error).

To help ease this burden, 81 percent of young adult respondents told the AP-NORC that they thought employers should offer long-term care insurance plans as a benefit, just as most offer health insurance. Another way employers can help is to recognize that many of their employees will be called upon to care for an elderly loved one and to offer them paid leave for this purpose so that they can take that time without hurting their careers or incomes.

Proponents of caregiving leave point to its potential business benefits as an attraction and retention tool, as well as its benefits to employees in terms of their own retirement security and constraining the gender pay gap. Progressive employers have begun offering this benefit in growing numbers over the past two years, including big names like Deloitte, Facebook, and Microsoft. Smaller employers may not be able to match the generous policies on offer at these giant companies, but could potentially afford flexible PTO or family leave policies that encompass caregiving as well as parental and sick leave.