When we think of caregiving to older adults, the picture in our minds is often that of a baby boomer caring for older parents.
Currently, people ages 51 to 64 make up one-third of the estimated 40 million caregivers in the U.S., according to a study sponsored by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP. The typical caregiver is a 49-year-old woman, but as the general population ages, that profile is changing — and there’s an increase in millennial caregiving.
The Millennial Caregiving Profile
So guess who makes up one-quarter of those 40 million caregivers? Millennials. Far from being an entitled or flighty generation obsessed with smartphone texting and video games, millennials are filling a vital role in U.S. healthcare and elder care.
The rise in millennial caregiving means we have to revise our picture of who is giving care in the U.S.
The typical average age of the millennial caregiver is 27. These approximately 10 million millennial caregivers are also split equally between men and women — so the average millennial profile is not that of a woman. It could be a woman or a man. They work just a shade under 35 hours per week on average, so slightly less than full time, and they spend just over 21 hours per week providing care.
In addition, the millennial caretaker average salary is just over $42,000 per year, which is below the median U.S. salary of almost $52,000. Half of millennial caregivers are married. They may have attended college, but the average millennial caregiver doesn’t have a college degree.
While the average person a millennial might provide care for is a woman between the ages of 59 and 60 whose issue is a physical condition, millennials are also more likely to give care to someone with mental or emotional problems than those of baby boomer generation caretakers.
On average, millennial caregivers live about 20 minutes from the person who needs care. Roughly 50 percent of them have other unpaid caregiving help for the situation. The other 50 percent caregive alone.
What Caregivers Do
Across the country, caregivers perform a wide variety of tasks for those too old, too infirm or too ill. Many caregiving tasks are called activities of daily living (ADL). They range from turning an incapacitated person over in bed to helping with administering and adjusting medications.
ADL caregiving can also include common activities, such as cooking meals or paying bills, that have become too difficult due to such conditions as frailty or poor eyesight.
In general, millennial caregivers felt that they had a choice in whether to provide care or not. They do not report physical difficulty providing care, but they do report moderate psychological stress. This is different from the national average, where 38 percent of caregivers report that caregiving is stressful. The highest level of difficulty for millennial caregivers, which they said was moderately difficult, seemed to be finding qualified paid care to assist the person in need of assistance.
Concern for the Future
As the baby boomers age further, it is likely that the burden of care will fall even more on millennials and other generations.
An AARP spokeswoman called the situation a “’caregiving cliff,’” noting that there is expected to be just three caregivers available for every one person needing care by about 2050. This means millennial caregivers may face increasing physical, emotional and financial strain in providing care.
The study sponsors also expressed concern about the lack of support from either employers or the government for caregivers nationwide. As caregivers themselves age, the caregiver is more at risk for stress and incapacity. This places both the person needing care and their caregiver at risk. Both the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP cited the need for more support.
Caregivers may also have to choose personal care homes to relieve the burden. These can provide excellent alternatives if care becomes too demanding. Flexibility and an understanding of the options are key to providing care going forward.
Millennial caregiving is increasing as their friends and relatives get older. While the average caregiver nationwide may be 49 years old, as the baby boomer generation ages, millennials will likely continue to increase as a percentage of total caregivers in the U.S. This raises concerns that they will be spread too thin and may themselves suffer stress as they age.