Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Baby Boomers: From the Age of Aquarius to the Age of Responsibility

As the oldest of the nation’s 75 million baby boomers approach the age of 60, a Pew Research Center survey finds many are looking ahead to their own retirement while balancing a full plate of family responsibilities – either raising minor children or providing financial and other forms of support to adult children or to aging parents.

In the past year, 50% of all boomers were raising one or more young children and/or providing primary financial support to one or more adult children, while another 17% whose only children are ages 18 and older were providing some financial assistance to at least one such child, according to the survey. In addition, the survey finds that two-in-ten boomers were providing some financial assistance to a parent. Few boomers bear all these responsibilities simultaneously; the survey finds that about 13% are providing some financial support to a parent at the same time as they are also either raising a minor child or supporting an adult child.

The baby boomers currently range in age from 41 through 59 (the oldest turned 60 in January) and, like middle-aged generations before them, they are in a stage of life when it is natural to give more than to take when it comes to family relationships. However, changing demographics within families have prolonged for boomers this period of being “sandwiched” between the needs of their parents and their children.

The national survey conducted from Oct. 5 to Nov. 6 among 3,014 adults, including 1,117 boomers, looks at intergenerational relationships within families. This is the first in a new series of surveys by the Pew Research Center that examine social trends and explore the everyday lives of Americans at work, at play, in their communities and in their families.

Major findings from the report include:

    • In their financial exchanges both with parents and adult children, boomers are more likely to give than receive. For example, of those boomers with a living parent, nearly three-in-ten (29%) report that in the past year they provided financial assistance to a parent, while 19% report that they received financial assistance.
    • Boomers are now more likely to have living parents. Thanks to advances in life expectancy, 71% of today’s boomers have at least one living parent, the survey found. In 1989, just 60 percent of people ages 41 to 59 had at least one living parent, according to a Gallup survey.
    • When it comes to providing financial support for children, the boomers’ parental role usually extends beyond the time when a child is a minor. Some 63% of boomers report that they have at least one adult child (ages 18 and older), and of this group, about two thirds (68%) say they are supporting an adult child financially, either as the primary (33%) or secondary (35%) source of support.
    • Boomers view financing a child’s college education as a parental responsibility. Sixty-six percent of boomers – and 62% of the adult public, in general – describe paying for a child’s college as a parental responsibility. A majority of boomers (56%) also say it is a responsibility to allow an elderly parent to live in one’s home if the parent wants to move in.
    • Boomers, younger adults and current retirees all share a moderate optimism about their finances in retirement. More than half of boomers who are not yet retired say they expect to “live very comfortably” (26%) or to be able to “meet expenses with a little left over” (29%) once they retire. Non-retired boomers are a bit more apprehensive than are younger adults and current retirees about the prospect of not having enough money in retirement.
    • Boomers say IRA’s and 401(k)’s will be biggest source of retirement income. While a plurality of current retirees (42%) say that Social Security is their biggest source of income, just 21% of non-retired boomers and even fewer adults ages 18 to 40 (13%) hold that expectation. Instead, about half (49%) of boomers who are not yet retired say that a 401(k) or IRA savings plan will be their biggest source of income during retirement, and fully two-thirds of adults ages 18 to 40 share that view.
    • Boomers are satisfied with their family life. Nine-in-ten boomers say they are very (72%) or somewhat (18%) satisfied with their family life. These assessments place boomers in sync with adults older and younger than they are. There is less overall satisfaction with family life among the 13 percent of boomers who have an elderly parent who needs help caring for himself or herself.

Read the full report for more details.

Icon for promotion number 1

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Fresh data delivery Saturday mornings

Icon for promotion number 1

Sign up for The Briefing

Weekly updates on the world of news & information