Millennials, the New Generation of Caregivers
For years, millennials have been regulars on the news for supposedly “killing off” mainstays of industry and culture, from homeownership to buying once standard items like napkins, breakfast cereal and diamonds. But one thing that millennials can’t be accused of killing off? Unpaid caregiving. Every year, more and more millennials step up to take charge of caring for a loved one, providing physical, personal and emotional care and support, often while attending school, working one or more jobs, taking care of young families and navigating student loan debt.
What are the characteristics of millennial caregivers?
Millennials, the generation of those born between 1980 and 1996, represent about 10 million of the total 40 million unpaid caregivers in the US, a number that is expected to sharply increase as the population of older adults over the age of sixty-five doubles over the next generation. According to AARP, about 35 percent of these millennial caregivers are ages 18 to 24, 34 percent are ages 30 to 34, and 31 percent are ages 25 to 29. 47 percent of millennial caregivers are male, which is about a ten percent increase from previous generations.
The same report also details some of the financial characteristics of millennial caregivers. 73 percent are employed and have at least one job, and 54 percent earn at or below $49,999 annually, with 11 percent earning under $15,000. On average, 27 percent of a millennial caregivers’ out-of-pocket income is dedicated to caregiving expenses.
Millennial caregivers in the workforce
Many of the challenges millennial caregivers face originate in the workplace rather than in the home. Balancing work with caregiving is a struggle most caregivers contend with, but the problem can become even greater for millennials, many of whom are only just getting started in the workforce and are still seeking to establish themselves professionally. Job uncertainty makes millennials even more unlikely to discuss their needs with their employers. According to AARP, while 60 percent of older caregivers inform their bosses and supervisors of their caregiver role, only 46 percent of millennial caregivers do the same.
However, their caregiver responsibilities greatly effect their work, whether they inform their supervisors or not. Around 39 percent of millennial caregivers arrive to work late or have to leave early due to their caregiving responsibilities, and 14 percent have to reduce their work hours entirely. If employers are unaware of the reasons behind their employee’s absenteeism, this may also lead to severe warnings, cuts to salaries, demotions or even termination.
The stress of facing these possible consequences in the workplace can pile up and contribute to a millennial caregiver’s sense of burnout and depression while negatively impacting their work performance and productivity. Even those who communicate their needs to their boss may discover that their workplace lacks support for caregivers and is inflexible in regards to time off and changes in schedule.
Challenges faced by millennial caregivers
Another challenge millennial caregivers face is that policies and supports are designed with the image of a typical caregiver in mind—namely, someone middle aged or older, female, and who long ago graduated from school and established themselves professionally. Many caregiver resources and support systems don’t provide solutions to student caregivers trying to earn their degree, or offer funded respite care that is accessible to younger adults.
Most millennials are used to being made the butt of jokes by the media for the perception surrounding them of being self-absorbed and unaccustomed to ‘real responsibility,’ but not being taken seriously can have a negative impact on millennial caregivers. Many feel as if they cannot have serious health discussions with their loved one because they are afraid of being treated like a child or being seen as too uninformed to provide real help. Many are also anxious about navigating resources and communicating with healthcare professionals, afraid that they will be looked down at, or not be taken seriously as a decision-maker for their loved one if they ask questions (Elder Options of Texas (2018) Challenges Faced by Millennial Caregivers).
Where millennial caregivers can find help
As the status quo shifts, so too will programs and policy, but for millennials who need support now rather than later, many organizations are working to lead the charge to embrace and provide help to younger caregivers. A few to begin with include:
- AARP’s Prepare to Care guide for those who are new to caregiving and need advice on communication, finding support and making time for self-care
- Scholarship opportunities for caregivers attending school
- Caregiver forums and support groups for young adults, such as those available on The Caregiver Space
- The American Association of Caregiving Youth, a non-profit dedicated to increasing awareness of issues faced by young caregivers and connecting them to resources
Self-advocacy is also key. No matter our age, we should talk to our employers about our caregiving demands and work with them to establish ways to stay dedicated to both our career and our caregiving. Many places offer Employee Assistance Programs to help manage difficulties at work and at home, so if this is available to us, we should not neglect to take advantage of it. Millennials and other young caregivers are often referred to as an invisible or unrecognized group, but if we step out of the shadows and make our voices heard, some light can be shed on our unique struggles and challenges and progress can be made.