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Millennial Caregivers: The Next Generation of Family Caregivers

Kristen Hicks
By Kristen HicksApril 9, 2019

The media has a lot to say about millennials. Trendy stories often paint them as lazy and selfish or describe the industries they fail to support. Lost in the larger narrative, however, is the significant number of millennials currently serving as family caregivers to their parents and senior loved ones.

Learn more about millennial caregivers and read more about the top five challenges they’re facing today.

Millennial Caregivers: A Growing Trend

For those reading this blog, the existence of a large number of family caregivers who are working long hours to care for their parents or senior loved ones — over 40 million to be exact — is no surprise. What you may not have realized, however, is that around a quarter of these caregivers are millennials.

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While the media still paints this generation as though they’re in their late teens and early 20s, millennials are in fact defined as those who were born in the years 1981-1996, putting many millenials firmly in their 30s. This generation now has grandparents and parents who need help with day-to-day care and since there is a growing senior population that lacks adequate savings to hire help, their younger loved ones find themselves needing to step in to do the job.

Caregivers of all ages may face the frustration of feeling that the work they undertake seems invisible to society at large. If anything, that’s even more the case for millennial caregivers who face criticisms for being part of the supposed “lazy generation” while balancing family caregiving and full-time work — all with less money than generations before them.

The Top 5 Challenges That Millennial Caregivers Face Today

All caregivers have a difficult job and family caregiving at any age can bring significant challenges.

But it’s worth addressing the particular challenges that millennials face based on their age and some of the traits associated with their generation:

1. Their caregiving duties are often invisible to their coworkers.

Financial challenges may lead millennials to be more fearful about losing their jobs because of their other responsibilities. Less than one-fifth of millennial caregivers even bother mentioning their caregiving responsibilities to their coworkers or employers. Older caregivers are more comfortable doing so, with nearly half of them putting it out in the open.

But millennials largely keep mum and try to keep the competing responsibilities of their paid work and unpaid responsibilities from colliding.

2. They feel more isolated.

While the numbers of millennial caregivers are significant, they still make up a minority of millennials overall. Most millennials that care for a parent or senior loved one lack peers going through something similar. With friends who have an entirely different set of challenges, they have a hard time finding people that can relate to the concerns they face every day.

In one poll, nearly three-quarters of younger caregivers reported feeling isolated, versus less than half of older ones saying the same. The emotional toll and stress of caregiving are that much harder when there’s no one to share it with.

3. They juggle their own living expenses and student debt, as well as their senior loved one’s expenses.

Millennials famously face some real financial challenges. Over two-thirds of millennials have at least $10,000 in student loan debt. Studies show that debt plays a big role in their long-term financial opportunities, making it harder to buy a home or invest in retirement. All of which adds up to millennials with student debt having a net worth of 25% the value of their debtless peers.

On top of that, millennials who also provide caregiving face the costs that come with it. On average, millennial caregivers spend $6,800 a year on expenses related to caregiving. Already facing the blow of lower wages and student debt, they’re also taking on the financial burden of family members whose care is costly and who don’t have the savings to cover it themselves.

4. They provide care and work at the same time.

Most millennial caregivers are performing those caregiving duties while also working a full-time job. AARP’s report found 73% of millennial caregivers had a job on top of helping care for their loved ones and that they spend an average of 21 hours a week on caregiving in addition to the work they do at their job.

That’s a heavy workload to manage, but one they’re stuck with because of our next challenge.

5. They put off other milestones.

With everything else they’re balancing, millennial caregivers are less likely to have the ability and time to achieve the traditional life milestones associated with being in your late 20s and 30s. Who has time for buying or paying for a house when they’re working 60+ hours between a job and caring for a loved one and drowning in student debt?

Millennials, in general, aren’t meeting these milestones on the timeline that was normal for previous generations, but those with caregiving responsibilities are that much less likely to do so.

The Next Generation of Family Caregivers

As their grandparents and parents age, the ranks of millennial caregivers will only grow and the challenges they face are unlikely to go away with time.

Many can expect their student loans to follow them well into older adulthood and may continue to struggle to achieve conventional milestones due to the financial setbacks common to their generation.

As with other generations, millennials will need to find ways to balance the needs of loved ones while taking care of themselves.

Part of that will require finding support systems in each other and part of it may mean a needed shift in how employers deal with staff balancing caregiving and work responsibilities as the numbers of people doing both grow.

Until then, millennial caregivers will continue to face both the typical difficulties all unpaid caregivers do, along with some special challenges related to their generation.

Do you know a millennial caregiver? What other challenges will the next generation of family caregivers face? We’d like to hear from you in the comments below.

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