Are family caregivers—and care recipients–getting younger? Are men more likely to care for parents and other relatives than in the past? Perhaps, according to a recent survey by the long-term care insurance company Genworth.
The survey found that about half of family caregivers now are men. That’s significantly higher than the 40 percent in other studies. At the same time, the average age of Americans caring for their loved ones has dropped from 53 when Genworth first did this survey in 2010 to 47 today. And these two trends may be linked.
Not only are caregivers getting younger, so are the family members they are helping. In 2010, Genworth found that eight out of 10 were 65 or older. Now, just 57 percent are older adults. And about 20 percent of care recipients are likely to need help as a result of an accident rather than due to illness. That’s nearly twice as high as in 2010.
Positive feelings, but more stress.
On average, caregivers say they provide about 21 hours of assistance a week for three years. That is pretty consistent with the landmark 2015 Caregiving the US study.
Eight in 10 say caregiving gives them positive feelings. But…more than half say assisting a friend or family member has increased their stress and nearly half say it has a negative effect on their overall health and well-being. Four-in-10 say it has affected their mental health and has hurt their relationship with their spouse or partner. Half feel unqualified to provide the physical care their loved ones need.
Not only do caregivers pay an emotional price, nearly two-thirds report they are helping with the financial costs of care for their loved ones. Those who do provide financial assistance say they pay an average of $10,400 out of pocket. That’s up 29 percent since Genworth’s 2013 study.
Effects on work
Family caregivers are spending more even as their own income is falling. Seventy percent say they have missed time from work to care for a family member. Almost half (46 percent) say they have had to work fewer hours, and one-third say they have used vacation or sick time or had repeated work absences. One in five frequently are late for work, and nine percent say they have lost their jobs as a result of caregiving responsibilities.
Compared to the 2015 survey, the number of caregivers who have missed work or cut back hours is down somewhat. Genworth says employers may be becoming more responsive to the caregiving needs of their workers. This may have to do with today’s very tight job market, which makes it tougher for firms to replace these workers.
Genworth surveyed about 1,200 people, including caregivers, care recipients, and other family members. Of the caregivers it interviewed, half were caring for a parent and one-third for a spouse. Others were caring for grandparents, siblings, or children with disabilities over 25.
Some results differ from other recent studies. But, if they are correct, they may identify important trends worth keeping an eye on.
For example, are men really more likely to be caregivers than in the past? Are the services they provide different than what daughters or wives do? There have been few recent studies of male caregivers, but if they are a growing source of family support its time to learn more about them and what they are doing.
And how can we do a better job supporting male caregivers? Men may have more trouble than women caring for themselves or seeking out support from others. And their job-related burdens may be different from women. Jean Accius at AARP has been promoting caregiving support models for men. It would be helpful if others picked upon his work.
The finding that caregivers are getting younger on average is also worthy of additional study. Is this because older family caregivers are doing less? Or is it because younger family members are taking on more? Or both? Does the recent increase in multigenerational households help explain the change? Or is it related to an increase in younger people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, whose caregivers also are younger?
In the past year, advocates began focusing more attention on millennial caregivers. But there still is a lot we don’t know about why their numbers have been growing. A survey earlier this year by the Associated Press and the University of Chicago found that younger caregivers are more likely to be men. Other surveys also show that younger men are more likely to be caregivers than their fathers or older brothers. It would be nice to know why.
The Genworth survey is another piece in the complex jigsaw puzzle of caregiving. And it may help to break down some outdated stereotypes of those who need care and those who are helping them.