When we think about family caregivers, we usually picture spouses or 50-something adult children. But, it turns out, about one-third of Americans have helped care for an older loved one by age 40.
In some respects, those millennials resemble older caregivers: They are as likely to underestimate the need for long-term supports and services in old age and they misunderstand who pays for it. At the same time, they are very different: While they spend, on average, less time caring for loved ones and say they have more family support, they are less resilient and feel more stress.
This picture is courtesy of a new survey by the Associated Press and the University of Chicago’s NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Funded by the SCAN Foundation, the survey is the sixth in a series that looks at caregiving.
While millennial caregivers acknowledge they are unprepared to care for their loved ones, they are less likely than older caregivers to support most policy changes aimed at supporting older adults, younger people with disabilities, and those helping them. For example, while about six in ten favor a public insurance program or tax subsidies to help buy private long-term care insurance, that’s about 10-15 percentage points lower than older caregivers.
Yet, when asked who they think should pay for long-term care, they describe a system that is completely at odds with the current structure. For example, 53 percent of younger caregivers think private insurance should bear a large share of the responsibility, yet private long-term care insurance pays only about 10 percent of these costs and health insurance pays none. Forty percent think Medicare should be a major payer, yet Medicare effectively pays little or nothing towards the costs of long-term care. They are more realistic about Medicaid: One-third say the program should bear much of the responsibility for financing long-term care. And, in reality, it does. The program pays about one-third of all costs, second only to families themselves.
The most surprising result is how many young adults are now, or have been caregivers. About one-third say they have already helped care for an older loved one at some time in their lives and about one in six were caring for an older family member at the time of the survey. About half the younger family caregivers are men, which is higher than the 40 percent of older caregivers among the older group.
Among those millennials who are not providing care, nearly two-thirds expect to do so sometime over the next five years. More than half say they are unprepared, compared with about one-third of those older than 40.
Millennial caregivers report spending much less time helping loved ones than caregivers over 40. For example, only about one-quarter say they spend 10 or more hours a week providing personal assistance, while nearly two-thirds of older caregivers do so. One big difference: relatively few younger people are providing care alone, a stark contrast with older caregivers who frequently assist parents or spouses with little or no help from others.
Six in 10 say they receive all the social and emotional support they need—mostly from family. Nearly half say they get some support from online communities, almost twice the rate as older caregivers. But only about 8 percent of millennials say they get most of their support that way. Twice as many say faith communities are their biggest source of social and emotional support.
Fifty-something adult daughters remain the backbone of family caregiving. But, as this survey reminds us, family members caring for aging loved one are a widely diverse group. It is worth remembering as we think about how to help them, either personally or through policy changes.