Montclair University  
Lecture April 2, 2003 -The Elderly and Their Families

Why aging in the 21st century differs from previous generations.

Grandparenthood as a distinct stage of life is a post-World War II phenomenon - Summary – It is easier for today’s grandparents to have a pleasurable, emotion-laden relationship with their grandchildren because they are more likely to live long enough to develop the relationship because they are not still busy raising their own children; because they can travel long distances more easily and communicate over the telephone; and because they have fewer grandchildren and more economic resources to devote to them.

Decline in mortality – Men and women living longer lives; women outlive men on average. Elderly population itself increasingly older.

Young old – the group of elderly people 65 to 74 years of age.

Old-Old – the group of elderly people 75 to 84 years of age.

Oldest-Old – the group of elderly people 85 years of age and over.

Today most adults livelong enough to get to know their grandchildren.

Fertility decline – because birth rates are lower, and most adults have finished raising their children by the time they become parents, grandparenthood is now a more distinct stage of life.

Horizontal bonds of kinship shrinking -Vertical ties of kinship increasing
Declining births mean that the average person has fewer links to kin the same generation; but because of declining mortality the average person has more links to kin in preceding or succeeding generations.

Increased standard of living – The incomes of the elderly have risen dramatically has a result of the expansion of the Society Security eligibility, increases in Social Security benefits, and the growth of private pension programs.

Exceptions by age, race, and sex
Elderly women are more likely to be poor than elderly men, and African-American and Hispanic elderly persons are more likely to be poor than white elderly persons.  1997 9.2 percent of those age 65 to 4 were poor compared with 12.2 percent of those aged 75 and over.  6.9% of elderly men were poor as compared with 11.8 percent of women.  And 9.0% of the white elderly were poor, compared with 26.0 of the black elderly and 24.4 percent of the Hispanic elderly.

Still the case that many elderly just above poverty level. ‘Tweeners – the group of elderly people who have incomes that place them between the poor, who can qualify for public assistance over and above Social Security, and the middle class, who can supplement their Social Security checks with savings and pensions.

Older parents and adult children less dependent on each other.

Living arrangements of the elderly in the 21st century – Separate living arrangements – 1 out of every 10 households in the US in 1998 was maintained by an elderly person living alone

Gender Differences in Living Arrangements - Living alone is the most common arrangement among white and African-American elderly women for two reasons: Women outlive spouses and few widows remarry.

Hispanic women more likely to be living with a relative

Men most likely to be living with spouse –   

Importance of independence for elderly in Western cultures –Growing old is not generally associated with loss of autonomy. 

Changes in death and dying
Changes in life expectancy ad living arrangements have altered the ways in which families experience dying and death.  The death of a child or a mother during childbirth is no longer common.  Rather grandparents usually die before their children and grandchildren.  Although the death of a spouse is difficult for either partner, studies suggest that elderly men may have more difficulty adjusting to being widowed than elderly women.  Elderly men typically have not done much cocking, cleaning or other household tasks.  On losing their wives, some of them find daily household management difficult.  Elderly widows, in contrast, more often have financial problems.  Despite their financial problems, elderly women have better mental and physical health after widowhood than elderly men.  Elderly men are more likely than women to die in the first few years after widowhood.

Quality of intergenerational ties
Intergenerational solidarity – The characteristics of family relationships that knot the generations together.

Logan and Spitze paraphrase Riley and Riley:
First – numerous social and cyltural changes are yielding a larg and complex network f kin relationships.
Second – These relationships are flexible …increasingly matters of choice rather than obligation.
Third – these relationships are not constrained by age or generation; people of any age, within or across generations, may opt to support, love or confide in one another.
Fourth, many of these kinship bonds remain latent until called upon.

Contact – How frequently parents and children see each other and are in touch electronically through telephone calls or e-mail messages.

High between grandparents, children, and grandchildren

Affected mostly by distance. When grandparents are geographically close, the frequency of visiting is high. On the other hand, when adult children move away, grandparents’ access to their grandchildren drops dramatically.

Kin-keeping mostly done by women. In addition to living close by, grandparents saw their grandchildren more frequently if they had a close relationship with the mother of the grandchildren.

Finally, family culture – shared values and traditions seems to influence contact.

Affinity/Affection – How emotionally close parents and children feel and how much they agree on values, attitudes, and beliefs.

There is no evidence that the emotional ties between parents and children and grandchildren have grown weaker.  Nearly all studies report a high level of warmth and emotional closeness among the different generations in a family.

John Logan and Glenna Spitze’ study – Evidence that the bonds betseen generations are strong, funded on mutual caring rather than generational self-interest.

The degree of emotional closeness between parents and children varies over the life cycle.  Closeness and intimacy decline as children move into adolescence.  As children reach adulthood closeness improves again, and it improves further as the parents enter old age and their children enter middle age.

There appears to gender differences in closeness.  Mother-daughter relationships are the closest, mother-son relationships second, father-daughter the third and
Father-son relationships most distant.  Women are the kin keepers.

The second component of affinity is agreement between the generations on values, attitudes, and beliefs. There is substantial agreement between parents and children. First parents socialize their children in their own values while raising them - both at home and at the family's place of religious worship.  Second, parents and children often share the same social class position and therefore have similar kinds of jobs and leisure activities. 

However, Cherlin says the experiences of parents and children do diverge in ways that can cause differences in opinions.  This process is called the cohort replacement model of public opinion because it presumes that each successive birth cohort experiences a different social environment and retains distinctive opinions throughout adult life.

Assistance – The amount of assistance, in time, goods, or money, that parents and children provide to each other.

Family ties – when they are present – are people’s preferred source of routine assistance. Others play distinctly subordinate roles.

Mutual assistance - Until they are very old or very ill, the elderly typically give more assistance to their adult children than the children provide them. 

Episodic rather than continual- For example, grandparents spend much more time providing assistance to their adult children when their grandchildren are in their preschool years than when they are adolescents. 

In 1995 grandparents were the primary source of childcare for 19% of preschool children whose mothers worked outside the home.

Logan and Spitze – Typical relations with aging parents are well within the range of children’s ability to manage them without suffering stress.

Little differences by race when there is no co-residence. What may be the issue for some African-American and Hispanic elderly persons is the issue of income. 

Care is complementary between generations -Adult children tend to provide more personal support, such as comfort or care during an illness, whereas older parents tend to provide more material help: a loan, part of a down payment on a house, or help with finding a job.  This pattern allows the older generation to maintain a sense of independence, so central to American values, 

Women mostly the caregivers, especially to disabled elderly. Among those who need care, most elderly men get it from their wives, while most elderly women must rely on daughters and other relatives.  Older men who have divorced and had little contact with their children may be unable, later in life, to rely on their adult children for support.

However, Logan and Spitze say that parents do not rely exclusively on daughter for contact and help.  They say that there are differences in the kinds of activities that men and women carry out, but both men and women work at maintaining family ties.

Care of the Disabled: The majority of seriously disabled elderly persons are cared for in their homes by family members rather than in a hospital or nursing home.  The most common family caregiver other than a wife is an adult daughter.  In the future, fewer adult daughters may be available as caregivers, both because more of them will be employed and because the elderly will have fewer adult children.  Whether family members will continue to provide as much care as they do now is unclear.

These mostly female caregivers not only assist their relatives but also perform a critical public service.  Without the care that they provide, the expenses for Medicare and Medicaid and other types of assistance would be much more costly.

In 1995 4% of the elderly in the US resided in nursing homes. Even with impairments, the vast majority is living in the community than in nursing homes.

Are women in the middle - "The Sandwich Generation."? About four-fifths of the care of the disabled elderly who are living in the community is provided by relatives, most of them women.  If these caregivers went on strike tomorrow, nursing homes would be flooded with new patients and Medicaid would pay out billions more. 

However, for a middle-aged adult, the peak years for the care of young children typically occur before the peak years of the care of older parents.

In would seem obvious that being caught in the middle would be highly stressful, as the caregiver seeks to fulfill what is expected of her as wife, employee, mother, and daughters.  Some studies have indeed found a high stress level among such caregivers.  But having a job may be a "buffering" effect for women from her family roles.

Variability of intergenerational ties - Not all families have strong intergenerational ties.  Adult daughters and their mothers were more likely to have high levels of all indicators of solidarity - contact, affinity, and assistance - than were daughters and fathers or than sons and either fathers or mothers.  At the other extreme, adult children in the study reported low levels of all indicators of solidarity when their parents were divorced.  The lack of solidarity was particularly strong between adult children and their divorced older fathers.

The effects of divorce and remarriage -
Older men who have divorced and had little contact with their children may be unable, later in life, to rely on their adult children for support.

Implications for the future. Sons and daughters who are employed full-time give less help to, and receive less help from, their parents.  In addition, the fall in birthrates since the 1950s means that there are proportionally fewer adult daughters per elderly parent.  Elderly men will have to rely even more heavily on their main source of support today: their current wives.  It is possible, however, that this strategy won't work as well in the future.  The women who will be reaching old age will belong to the first generation to have extensive employment histories through adulthood.  The may have more financial resources when they retire, and some may keep working at least part-time after reaching age 65.  Fewer widowed and divorced women may find it attractive to remarry an elderly man.  They will have less need for financial support.

Issues to think about
Financing Social Security and Medicare
Social Security benefits accounted for 23% of the federal budget in 1999. Benefits under Medicare, the government health insurance program for the aged, constituted another 12%.

The long-term worry is that, as the proportion of the population that is elderly increase, paying for the benefits will become as serious burden on the nonelderly, working-age population.  The problem could become severe after 2010, when the large baby boom generation begins to retire.

According to Cherlin, Social Security actually in better shape.  In 1983, Congress passed legislation that greatly strengthened the long-term financial status of the system. Among other things, the legislation increased the payroll taxes that workers and their employers pay into the government's Social Security trust fund.  The legislation also raised the age at which people can retire and receive full benefits from 65 to 67 in 2027.

Little has been done, however, to control the spiraling growth of Medicare payments.  Three factors are contributing to the growth; the increase in the elderly population, the growing share of the elderly population is in the old-old and oldest-old categories and therefore at greatest risk of serious illness and disability), and the increasing cost of health care.  According to one projection, Medicare expenditures will increase from about 2 percent of the gross national product (the value of all goods and services produced by the nation) in 1990 to between 4 and 8 percent of the gross national product by 2025.

Options - increase the payroll tax that pays for Medicare. The government could also raise the age of eligibility for Medicare and instead cover the youngest elderly through a national health insurance program. Elderly people who are better off economically could be charged larger deductibles (the amount an individual must pay for a service before Medicare pays anything) or larger copayments (the percentage of the cost of a service that the individual, not Medicare, must pay after the deductible is met).  Those with better incomes could be required to pay more of the costs of their medical care. 

Article on Social Security
Social Security – is a pay-as-you-go system.  Each year’s pensions are paid out of the taxes contributed by workers that year.

By 1995 retirees will be the system’s first losers – meaning the benefits they stand to collect, will, on average, fall short of what they paid in Social Security taxes, plus the interest those taxes might have earned if the money had been invested, in say, a bank savings account.  The losers in this can are higher-income men, who never married.

Demographics have changed – the ration of workers to pensioners
In 1950 there were 16 workers paying taxes for every retiree collecting benefits.  In 1995, there were three workers supporting each pensioner. Beginning around 2012 and extending over more than a generation, the baby boomers will be retiring by the millions each year. As they leave the work force, they will be replaced by the much less numerous members of the baby-bust cohort, born between 1965 and 1975, By 2030, there will be only two workers to support each pensioner.

An estimated two-thirds of all workers, especially younger ones and the working poor, pay more Social Security tax than federal income tax.

Ideas to make the system better.
The retirement age is scheduled to rise very slowly to 67 by 2027. Others are suggesting raising the retirement to age 70.

Another suggestion is to end the special protection against inflation granted to Social Security.

Affluence test – means test instead of entitlement.

go private. The basic concept: require workers to place part but not all of their Social Security contribution into system of mandatory IRAs.  At retirement, workers would get a pension based on the amount of contributions, plus accumulated earnings, in their individual account.  It would require some mandatory payment into the government portion of Social security which would be used to provide a safety net for indigent retirees and to guarantee benefits to current retirees
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Last updated  2017/05/12 10:31:09 EDTHits  488