Will children support their parents?

The April 6 Parade magazine included an interesting take on relations between the “boomer” generation, now moving into retirement, and their children, the “millennials.” (Here’s a similar report from NPR).

While demographers and sociologists vary in their definitions, one popular approach is to idThe-Next-America-Pew-and-Paul-Taylorentify “boomers” with the post-World War II “baby boom,” extending roughly from 1946 to 1964. They were followed by a smaller generation, formerly known as the “baby busters,” but now more commonly called “Generation X,” born from about 1965-1980. Gen-Xers gave way to a still-growing generation once known as “Generation Y,” but now more frequently dubbed “millennials,” and occasionally labeled “echo boomers,” because they’re the boomers’ children and are similar in size.

Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center, notes that we should not be surprised to note that the boomers and millennials have a lot in common, and get along better than expected. That, I suspect, has something to do with the boomers’ parenting style, which tended to be more laid back and permissive than that of their own parents’ generation, the “builders.”

A 2009 study by the Pew Research Center found, for example, that both boomers and millennials considered the Beatles to be their favorite musical group. The Beatles broke up long before the first millennial was born, but their music lived on through a succession of 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, and mp3s.

But boomers and millennials are also tied together by financial interdependency. While the boomers have largely been a very prosperous generation, millennials struggle to find good-paying jobs and will likely be the first generation in the modern era to be poorer than their parents. Studies show that about forty percent of millennials either still live with their parents, or have become boomer-angs, leaving home for a while but returning when they couldn’t make ends meet.

We boomers had better hope our offspring will remember how long we have supported them, because as we continue reaching retirement age (at the rate of about 10,000 per day), they’re going to be the ones paying into the Social Security and Medicare trust funds that we hope will support us.

That’s scary, considering the ratio of taxpayers to retirees is bordering on to two-to-one, the lowest ever. Insecure about their future, boomers are tending to postpone retirement and hold onto their jobs for as long as they can, which makes it even more difficult for millennials — often stuck in low-paying positions — to move up the income ladder.

Maybe more of us boomers, as we approach 65, should consider the philosophy “retire now so they can pay later.” But our replacements will probably be paid less and thus contribute less to the social programs we’ll be depending on, so one could also argue that we should work and contribute as long as we can. 

Then again, when younger folks can’t find work, they may end up needing the benefit of other social programs while also being deprived of valuable work experience, adding to the current outflow of services.

What to do? Thinking about economics, like figuring taxes, makes my hair hurt — but if we can hold onto the Old Testament ideals of justice and mercy for all, based in the love of God, maybe we’ll figure it out yet.

 

[Taylor is the author of The Next America: Boomers, Millennials and the Looming Generational Showdown [PublicAffairs, 2014]).

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