‘Sandwiched’ Or Not, Boomers Have No Shortage Of Family Obligations

We know, from much gleeful media coverage, that the baby boomers began turning 60 this year. But have they finally grown up? Maybe so, given all of the family responsibilities they now shoulder. A study by the Pew Research Center examines some of these.

Given boomers’ own past performance, there’s some cosmic justice in the fact that their offspring are in no rush to be financially independent. “Some 63 percent of boomers report that they have at least one adult child (ages 18 and older), and of this group, about two-thirds (68 percent) say they are supporting an adult child financially, either as the primary (33 percent) or secondary (35 percent) source of support.” (One stunning statistic that cuts the other way: Among boomers with financially independent adult children, 14 percent received financial assistance from their kids in the past year.) Many boomers have young kids to contend with, too: 39 percent have at least one child under age 18.

The high incidence of financial help for kids who’ve passed age 18 partly reflects the fact that boomers feel parents are responsible for financing a kid’s college education—an opinion held by 66 percent of them. Boomers’ kids better enjoy such financial support while their parents are alive: Just 31 percent of the boomers feel it’s a parent’s responsibility to leave an inheritance for his or her children.

Among the 71 percent of boomers who have at least one living parent, 29 percent reported providing financial assistance to them in the past year. But the dependency can also run in the opposite direction: 19 percent of boomers with living parents received financial help from them in the past year. More broadly, 25 percent of boomers said their parents rely more on them than vice versa, while 10 percent said they still rely more on their parents. The rest said the two rely on each other equally (11 percent) or that neither relies on the other (53 percent).

Naturally, finances aren’t the only area in which elderly parents might need help. Mostly, though, boomers’ parents are still able to take care of themselves. Just 13 percent of all boomers have parents who “need help to handle their affairs or to care for themselves.” Even in this group, slightly fewer than one in five have a parent living in their home. The popular notion that boomers are all sandwiched between financial responsibilities for kids and parents is overdrawn, the study says. In fact, “about 13 percent are providing some financial support to a parent at the same time as they are also either raising a minor child or supporting an adult child.”