For Millennials Making Their Way, a Detour: To Caregiving

For baby boomers who fretted about every aspect of their children’s lives, here’s another worry for the list: Their children may become their caregivers while also handling the pressures of young adulthood. One-fourth of the 40 million caregivers in the United States are millennials, ranging from their early 20s to late 30s, according to a report by the AARP Public Policy Institute.

These caregivers are members of what an expert on aging, Gretchen Alkema, calls the panini generation: “They are feeling the heat, and they are feeling pressed.”

They differ from the typical middle-aged caregiver in the so-called sandwich generation, she said.

“Millennials are just starting out — they are building their careers and creating their families,” said Dr. Alkema, vice president of policy and communications at the SCAN Foundation, which provides grants for aging-related projects. Their responsibilities may make it difficult for them to gain a toehold on the economic ladder, she said.

A change in family structure is one reason for the large number of millennial caregivers, Dr. Alkema said. “Boomers had their kids at a later stage of their life than their own parents, and they had fewer children to provide the care,” she said.

Also, many boomers are divorced and single, leaving caregiving to their children rather than to a spouse, she said. And those younger caregivers are more likely than older caregivers to be men, according to a SCAN-financed poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Younger caregivers spend an average of 21 hours a week on those tasks, usually for a parent, grandparent or close friend, according to AARP. And more than half perform such difficult jobs as helping someone bathe or use the toilet and preparing injections.

The long-term consequences can be severe, said Susan Reinhard, senior vice president of AARP and the director of its Public Policy Institute. During several dinners the institute held last year, many millennial caregivers said their family responsibilities limited their choices when it came to employment and children, she said.


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