&l;p&g;&l;img class=&q;size-large wp-image-201&q; src=&q;http://blogs-images.forbes.com/josephcoughlin/files/2018/05/shutterstock_370197200-1200×800.jpg?width=960&q; alt=&q;&q; data-height=&q;800&q; data-width=&q;1200&q;&g; Debt, distance &a;amp; divorce are likely to complicate how Millennials will care for aging Baby Boomers.
Mother&a;rsquo;s Day has come and gone. The day is a ritual of saying thank you, materially expressed by a mixture of cards, flowers, chocolates, and Sunday brunches. But in a time in which we are living longer than ever before, many of us will find ourselves with a far greater opportunity to say thank you &a;ndash; that is, to provide care when our mothers will be less able to care for themselves.
As it is today, the future care of aging Baby Boomers (particularly mothers who are likely to live longer than dads) will likely be provided by adult children &a;ndash; today&a;rsquo;s Millennials and the youngest members of Gen X.
As of 2015, 34.5 million Americans provided unpaid care to a person over 50, a number that will increase precipitously in the coming years. Caregiving does not only involve physical care, but also emotional support, financial management, home maintenance, and logistical coordination. Says Lorna Sabbia, head of Retirement and Personal Wealth Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch: &a;ldquo;As tens of millions of people take on caregiving responsibilities each year, supporting those caring for our aging population has become one of the most pressing &l;a href=&q;https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20171101005254/en/Ninety-Two-Percent-Caregivers-Financial-Caregivers-%E2%80%93-Coordinating&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;financial issues&l;/a&g; of our lifetime.&a;rdquo; Economically, caregiving is one of the largest hidden costs of an aging population. It reduces productivity and limits advancement in the workplace for many midcareer adults. It is a responsibility that disproportionately falls on women. In concert with many other studies, MIT AgeLab &l;a href=&q;http://agelab.mit.edu/caregiving/&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;research&l;/a&g; shows that caregiving has an observable impact on the care provider&a;rsquo;s physical and mental health and wellbeing.
As significant as the impact of caregiving is on society today, I am also interested in how it will shape our lives tomorrow. When the Baby Boomers move into later older age in greater numbers, and must turn to others for help, how will they&a;mdash;and their children&a;mdash;respond? Will caregiving be different for the Millennial generation than it was for their parents?
While every generation experiences caregiver challenges, the Millennials might have an unfortunate convergence of forces that may conspire to create a caregiving crunch &a;ndash; these include debt, distance, and divorce.
Student debt plagues college-educated Millennials. &l;a href=&q;agelab.mit.edu&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;MIT AgeLab&l;/a&g; research on student debt shows that young college graduates may be shouldering unprecedented debt, but its implications are being shared across the generations. The average college graduate as of 2015 has &l;a href=&q;https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2017/04/28/average-student-loan-debt-every-state/100893668/&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;&l;strong&g;$30,100 in debt&l;/strong&g;.&l;/a&g; This burden is credited with being the primary reason why so many 20- and 30-somethings are delaying marriage, parenthood, and home ownership.
Debt will likely add to caregiver stress. Starting life a little later and taking on more debt as part of each successive life stage is likely to make it more difficult for many Millennials to choose careers that pay less but provide more workplace flexibility to care for mom. Moreover, college debt on top of housing, transportation, and other life costs may limit the financial capacity of soon to be middle-aged Millennials to outsource many caregiving tasks to eldercare service providers.
Debt and the costs of caregiving may change the course of not only Millennials&s;l midlives but also their retirement years&a;mdash;if it is possible to speculate that far into the future&a;mdash;registering as another cost that must be accounted for in the lifespan. Caregiving as a retirement cost is already something that should be taken seriously by the current generation, and by financial advisors. It will only grow more significant.
Distance may be the biggest upheaval involved in becoming a Millennial caregiver that may paradoxically fall most on relatively affluent individuals&a;mdash;those who were able to move away from home for college &l;a href=&q;https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/6/15/15757708/hometown-stay-leave&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;and did not come back.&l;/a&g; Millennials have been less likely than preceding generations to come back to their hometowns after a young adulthood spent in a distant city. Whether out of preference or need, they have opted to stay.
While advancing telecommunications technology has been credited with the &l;em&g;death of distance&l;/em&g; in almost every life endeavor, e.g., work, travel, many caregiving activities remain high touch. Providing emotional support and serving as a medical advocate and coordinator for an elderly mother, among other tasks, are, for now, close and personal roles.
Higher divorce rates among the Baby Boomers will force more adult children to choose which parent they care for. Divorce is often about dividing property, but the unprecedented high divorce rate (so-called &l;a href=&q;https://www.forbes.com/sites/josephcoughlin/2017/10/17/gray-divorce-how-working-in-retirement-might-just-save-your-marriage/#7440781f6842&q;&g;gray divorce&l;/a&g;) amongst the Baby Boomers may force many Millennials to ask, &l;em&g;who gets the parents&l;/em&g;? Siblings will ask each other, &a;ldquo;Which of us gets along better with Mom? Who will do well with Dad?&a;rdquo; Adding to this is the fact that the Boomers had far lower birthrates than their own parents&a;mdash;meaning that the unpaid caregiver labor pool will be lower. Only children will have to take on the responsibility alone, potentially upending their lives in doing so.
Every generation faces unique challenges. However, no generation has shouldered the sheer number of older adults that will be the coming tide of aging Baby Boomers. But as I write in my book &l;a href=&q;https://www.amazon.com/Longevity-Economy-Unlocking-Fastest-Growing-Misunderstood/dp/1610396634&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;The Longevity Economy&l;/a&g;, every challenge is, in fact, an opportunity. Business, government, NGOs, employers, communities and neighbors must be called upon to create new ways to provide care within the context of tomorrow&a;rsquo;s Millennial caregiver. This will most assuredly mean developing a wide range of innovations that include affordable care technologies, high touch services, caregiver friendly and flexible workplaces, financing options, etc. Moreover, while the Baby Boomers may be aging, they are far from done. It may be our best gift to our children to develop care plans, options, savings, and innovations today to care for us tomorrow.&l;/p&g;