A Dec. 10 article about a Pew Research Center study of baby boomers incorrectly said a majority were caring for an elderly parent. A majority said such care is their responsibility, but only 8 percent were actually doing it. (Published 12/15/2005)
As they step closer to old age, baby boomers -- that enormous group of Americans born between 1946 and 1964 -- say they are reaching deeper into their pockets to care for elderly parents and offspring in their twenties who are struggling to launch their own lives, according to a study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.
Even as they approach retirement, the 75 million surviving boomers, who make up a quarter of the nation's population, remain in the "sandwich" years and a larger percentage than in the past are helping their parents and their adult children financially.
According to the study, boomers are still feeling good: Nine in 10 said they are either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their lives, and a third said they will enjoy old age more than their parents did. More than half -- 55 percent -- said that they either "expect to live comfortably" in retirement or will be able to "meet expenses with a little left over," the study found.
But before they reach that point, they will pay great sums of money to help parents through one of the most vulnerable phases of their lives, and children who have jobs but do not earn enough to cover student loans, rents, mortgages or even car insurance.
"My kids are both moved out, but we're still providing 50 percent of their financial responsibility for them, just sending money," said Kim Gillingham, 45, who lives in Glencoe, Pa., with her husband, Randy. The couple, married 26 years, have a 23-year-old daughter and a 20-year-old son.
"They're not able to pay rent and car insurance and stuff like that," Gillingham said. "Those . . . things are so expensive. We have them on our policies to prevent them from having to pay outrageous prices."
Like many boomers, ages 41 to 59, Gillingham, a licensed practical nurse, said it is natural to give a little more than she gets at this stage in her life.
Her parents, both 65, are "financially okay" and in good health, but she said she is prepared to act if they become ill. The sacrifice, she said, would not hurt her retirement plans.
"We're good. My husband has figured out how to work this," Gillingham said. "We have money taken out of our accounts automatically. We have IRAs, 401(k)s. The house will be paid off when we retire. I'm very content. I'm very happy with what we have."
Those good feelings may not cross racial lines. In a 2004 study, Duke University sociology professors found that black baby boomers were "no better off relative to whites than their grandparents" were in terms of income. They earned about 66 percent of what white Americans made.
But in general, baby boomers feel comfortable enough to take on a substantial amount of family responsibility. Well over half of the respondents in the Pew study said an elderly parent is living with them, and 66 percent said they paid for a child to attend college.
Nearly three-quarters of boomers -- 71 percent -- have at least one living parent, the study found, up from 60 percent of people in the 41-59 age range in 1989.
In addition to having a living parent, 83 percent of boomers have at least one child.
The study, "From the Age of Aquarius to the Age of Responsibility," was derived from a telephone survey of 3,000 people, including 1,117 baby boomers, conducted Oct. 5 to Nov. 6. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus two percentage points.
The great boom of 76 million births between 1946 and 1964 started after soldiers began returning home en masse from World War II and ended in the thick of the love generation spawned by hippies and the civil rights movement.
They were among the first children to live in the suburbs and watch television, attend college in great numbers, fight in the Vietnam War and experiment with drugs. In the 1970s they turned to disco, and in the 1980s they fueled the "me generation" of young urban professionals, or yuppies.
Baby boomers, the study said, earn more than other Americans, with a median household income of $60,000, compared with $44,000 for other adults.