America is aging rapidly. While 13.1% of Americans were aged 65 and older in 2010, a study from the Pew Research Center estimates that 21.5% of us will be over age 65 by 2050. However, two other countries have an even larger aging problem — Germany and Italy will have nearly one-third of their population over age 65 by 2050 (32.7% and 33% respectively).
With greater numbers of retirees supported by fewer workers in all three countries, the Pew study looks at the assistance provided by the working generation — not only to seniors, but also to adult children who are having difficulty making it on their own. The so-called "sandwich" generation is faced with obligations in both generational directions, and the study investigates how all three countries handle assistance.
When it comes to financial assistance, we devote more of those resources to adult children than to elderly parents. In the U.S., 61% of survey respondents said that they had helped an adult child financially in the past twelve months, but only 28% provided financial help to a parent aged 65 or over. The numbers are similar in Italy (60% to 20%), with a bit less discrepancy in Germany (48% to 18%).
Other forms of assistance were split far more evenly among the generations. When the form of assistance over the last twelve months was errands, housework, home repairs, childcare, or personal care, 54% gave assistance to their children and 60% to their parents. Germans gave assistance to 62% of children and 69% of parents, while Italians gave 72% to both generations.
The study reveals other interesting data about attitudes on assistance — some are complementary to the above findings, but several are contradictory.
On the contradictory side, even though most people don’t do it, there is strong support for providing financial assistance to aging parents as a personal responsibility. 87% of Italians, 76% of Americans, and 58% of Germans believe that's the case.
Perhaps that's because most people don’t expect Social Security or the overseas equivalents to stay fully solvent. Believe it or not, Americans are the optimists here, with 20% expecting benefits to stay intact and 31% expecting reduced benefits. In Germany, the numbers are 11% and 45% respectively; in Italy, it's even worse at 7% and 29% respectively.
Given that result, Italians should be saving for retirement, right? Think again. Only 23% are saving for retirement compared to 56% in the U.S. and 61% in Germany.
Strangely, the numbers are lower for considering financial help to adult children as a responsibility. 73% of Italians, 63% of Germans and 50% of Americans feel that way. So more of us feel that it's responsible to help our parents financially, yet we tend to help our children instead. However, when it comes to inheritances — forget it. Only 36% of Americans, 27% of Italians, and 16% of Germans plan to leave savings for their children when they die.
Does this result in stress for the Sandwich generation? Apparently it doesn't. The study found that most lead generally happy lives, with well over 80% in each country saying that helping either parents or children is rewarding. As for why we prefer time to money with our parents, it may be that we prefer giving our time to our parents just because we understand there is less of it left. The older we (and our parents) are, the more that point is driven home.
The upshot of the Pew report seems to be that the burden of caring for adult children and parents is likely to increase in the short term, and that there will be limited help from government in the future — but families should support each other and somehow we will get by. Not only that, but we'll enjoy ourselves in the process. We'll take that optimistic view any day.For more results, see the report summary here.