The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington DC, is one our nation’s most respected research organizations for identifying and exploring issues and trends that shape and influence behavior in our nation and throughout the world.
Last year, the Center issued a report that’s especially worthy of our attention, since its findings bear on how we see ourselves and work together as family members. It offers revealing statistics that show how the burden and responsibilities of middle-aged Americans are increasing, as a result of their aging parents and adult children who depend on them for financial and emotional support.
The survey, for the most part, explores the attitudes of those in their forties and fifties — an age group that straddles Baby Boomers and Generation Xers. It reveals that Americans are more devoted to family than the media at large generally acknowledge.
Just about half of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent 65 or older who is living; and are, at the same time, either giving financial support to a child over 18, or raising a younger child. Of this group, 15% are providing financial support to both the aging parent and the child. Inasmuch as college tuition is rapidly rising, it should come as no surprise that most of the cost burden in this instance is coming more from grown children than from aging parents.
What’s also revelatory in the report is how profoundly America values its aging population. We’re often characterized abroad as a youthful country that undervalues and turns away from its elderly. But 75% of those polled say that adults have an obligation to provide financial support for an elderly parent who needs it. Only 52% say parents have a similar obligation to support their grown children.
One would think that the "Sandwich Generation" (sandwiched between needy kids and parents that require assistance) experiences more stress than other adults. Yet the survey shows they are just as happy with their lives as other adults. Thirty-one percent say they are “very happy” with their lives, and 51% a say they are “pretty happy.”
These statistics are consistent across ethnic and political affiliation lines. This is encouraging news, since the findings suggest we’re more of a unified nation in terms of our ethical beliefs — at least with respect to family — than the "culture warriors" on either side have led us to believe.