An issue that won’t age well – boomers and beyond in the US and UK

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 20, 2022

As an, ahem, middle-aged person, it’s interesting and alarming in equal parts to consider the situation of aging people in the UK and US.

I’m a national of both and it’s fascinating to consider the differences between the legal situation of elderly parents, for instance, in Britain and America.

In the UK, people are not legally responsible for their elderly parents. In the US, it’s a slightly different picture with about a third of American states deeming adult children liable for their old parents’ care if they’re unable to look after themselves.

Legal responsibility, of course, is one thing. Moral and ethical considerations are quite another.  How do adult children reconcile their freedoms – to care for or not – with their sense of filial responsibility, love and concern for their parents?

In the US, for instance, Latino families stand out from the crowd in their determination to help their own ageing relatives.

Yarissa Reyes, head of Latino outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association, recently told Axios that “It’s almost a badge of honor to say, ‘I’m taking care of abuelita’ or mom or papi or whoever it is”.

That’s similar to the cultural considerations among South Asians as well, but a profound sense of filial responsibility is not, of course, limited to non-Caucasian people. I know Anglo-Saxon families, for instance, where the care of an ageing parent with progressive dementia was kept within their shared home and the state was not supposed to be the primary care-giver.

The issue of social care – especially of older people – has become a political hot potato in Britain with Jeremy Hunt, the finance minister, recently announcing that local authorities can raise more money themselves to pay for the provision. This has prompted criticism from economists and others who have studied the issue of social care in the UK. The argument is that allowing local authorities to fund social care through increases in council tax will leave poorer areas at a disadvantage.

The care of ageing people will increasingly be an issue for the US as well, which will have the largest cohort of elderly adults in its history by 2060. Baby boomers — those the Census Bureau defines as born between 1946 and 1964 — are living longer than previous generations but they are also more likely to be divorced and with children who either live too far away to help out, or with stepchildren as the result of remarriage. Those with stepchildren have a unique problem, as a recent Axios story said. It quoted University of Michigan sociologist Sarah Patterson – an expert on demographic shifts in life expectancy – who said that stepchildren are less likely to care for an aging parent than biological children. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the number of people 65 and older in the US is expected to nearly double from 51 million people in 2017 to 95 million in 2060.

It’s not just a transatlantic problem, of course, but one that does focus attention on cultural sensibilities – and peculiarities – in the Anglo-Saxon sphere.