Research

Boomers Will Struggle with Care in Old Age

Granddaughter and grandmotherThe bulk of care for the nation’s elderly is informally provided by spouses, adult children, and other family members. But if family can’t fill the need, will retirees be able to hire an in-home caregiver or pay for a nursing home in the future?

Just one in five 65-year-olds has enough family and financial resources combined to provide the support they would require in the event they develop the most severe care needs as they age, according to new research by the Center for Retirement Research. At the other extreme, more than one in three will have insufficient resources to cover even a minimal amount of care.

The study builds on previous report showing that most retirees will eventually need some care, though only one in four is predicted to have severe needs. And one in five will not need any care. The new study used data from a national survey of older Americans to determine how many total hours of care are required for three different levels of need – minimal, moderate and severe.

For example, 924 hours of family or professional care per year are used by the typical person who gets minimal assistance, such as housekeeping or cooking for a few weeks or months. But people with severe needs receive nearly 2,300 hours of care per year – with half supplied by family members. This would add up to more than 11,000 hours over a five-year period, which is the length of time the researchers used to define severe care needs.

Next, the researchers calculated how many hours of care could be covered informally by family and how many hours of formal care the retirees could purchase with their income and any financial assets. If the total hours of care they can cover with their resources fall short of what is required for a given level of need, then retirees have insufficient resources to meet that need.

Unmarried women are in the toughest position, because they lack not only a spouse to take care of them in old age but also the financial advantages enjoyed by married couples, who tend to be wealthier than single people. Over half of unmarried women will not be able to cover even minimal care needs. In contrast, only a third of couples could not provide for any future care.

There are also big disparities by race: nearly half of older Black Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics do not have the family and financial resources to provide at least minimal care, compared with only a third of whites.

Medicaid is the fallback for elderly people who need a nursing home but can’t afford it. The final study in this series will bore down to the individual level to determine whether the retirees who will need help have the resources to provide it – and how Medicaid will fill the gap.

To read this study, authored by Anek Belbase, Anqi Chen and Alicia Munnell, see “What Resources Do Retirees Have for Long-term Services and Supports?”

The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.  The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College.  Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report.  Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.

3 Responses to Boomers Will Struggle with Care in Old Age

  1. Paul Brustowicz says:

    What is not mentioned here is the support and/or care that widows and widowers need in the first months and maybe years after a spouse dies. Women who depended on their husbands for home maintenance chores and men who depended on wives for meals. Any studies on that?

  2. Do I have this right? This study is based on historical numbers and if Baby Boomers and subsequent generations have a lower marriage rate and fewer children than prior generations, matters will be even worse than reflected in this study? Would this be somewhat ameliorated by more women from these generations being in the workforce?

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