For Boomer women, caregiving is not the devastating burden the media makes it out to be
Family caregiving is nothing new to American culture. Yet, if has received a lot of press lately, specifically focused on what I call the “poor” story, about how Boomers are going to be burdened by their long-living parents and how this devastating financial and emotional weight will ruin their lives and make the second half of adulthood a nightmare. The “poor” story highlights Boomer women especially, who supposedly will find themselves shackled to their caregiving role for their entire lives, caring first for their children and then for their parents and elderly relatives.
The caregiving phenomenon has even given rise to a term for Boomer caregivers-the Sandwich Generation-those who are squeezed in the middle taking care of both the younger and the older generations at the same time. While there is some truth to the rumors about this new life-stage, the reality is that most Boomer women will not be saddled with the role of caregiver-even the somewhat hysterical NPR piece can only bring itself to report one-in-seven adults supporting both parents and kids. For the women who are in this situation, it is not as devastating as most accounts have thus far painted it to be.
The facts about Boomer women and caregiving
With the media hype, sometimes we get the impression that caregiving is a good deal more widespread than it actually is. So how many Boomer women are actually caught up in caregiving? It’s not an easy question to answer. Here’s my analysis. The 2009 National Alliance for Caregiving study reports that in the US, there are an estimated 19 million Boomer women caregivers (Of the estimated 65.7 million caregivers, 44% are Boomers and 66% are women). The 2010 Census shows about 42 million Boomer women total, which means 45% of all Boomer women are caregivers! Wow! Sounds pretty widespread, right? Well not so fast.
To qualify as a caregiver in the National Alliance study, a person must perform at least one lighter-weight task, like grocery shopping, driving, housework, laundry, doing dishes, paying bills or filling out insurance claims-that makes the role of caregiver seem more reasonable, doesn’t it? Only 13% of caregivers fit the stereotypical concept of caregiving-helping with lighter tasks and at least two harder chores while providing more than 40 hours per week of care. And only 15% of caregivers report feeling a strong sense of financial hardship as a result of their care.
Boomer women in their own words
When I conducted research into Boomer women for my boom PrimeTime Women, caregiving came up spontaneously, indicating that is indeed a fact of like for many of our participants. These comments give perspective into the caregiving activities of Boomer women:
“My husband and I make frequent trips about once a month to New Jersey to visit my mother-in-law. She will be 89 this year and is in a continuing care facility.” – Dee Dee, 54
“We have been visiting my mother-in-law about 4-5 times a year. She lives two days away by car.” – Susan, 58
“I worked part-time until about 10 years ago. I have been taking care of elderly relatives since then. However, physically, I feel good. My husband and I are happy. He retires next month.” – Tomi, 62
Marketing professionals shouldn’t get caught up in the popular narrative that being a Boomer woman means having no time for herself because of her duties to aging parents and children. Boomer women care-but caregiving is not the defining feature in most of their lives.