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How Much Long-Term Care Do Adult Children Provide?


  • Gal Wettstein
  • Alice Zulkarnain


As people age and their health starts to deteriorate, their need for help in daily life increases. Normal activities become more difficult as they lose the strength, flexibility, and agility required for basic routines such as dressing, buying groceries, and handling finances. To assist with such activities, one option is formal caregiving services. However, cost concerns and personal preferences lead many people to first turn to informal care from family members, particularly children. While formal care has a clear monetary cost, the burdens of informal care are harder to pin down. This brief uses the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to estimate how many adult children provide care to their parents and the extent of their caregiving burden. The caregiving issue is becoming increasingly important. In the coming decade, baby boomers will begin reaching their 80s, an age when the need for care rises substantially. This cohort is larger than earlier generations, but also had fewer children per household. The resulting higher ratio of parents to children suggests a potentially bigger burden for the boomers’ children than for previous generations. To the extent that this burden is too much to handle, it will likely fall on formal care providers and insurers, particularly public programs like Medicaid. This brief proceeds as follows. The first section presents data on the need for care among the elderly and on how much care is provided by adult children. The second section synthesizes recent research on the burden of care provision borne by adult children. The final section concludes that while only a moderate share of adult children provide care for their parents, those who do so contribute a lot of time and effort. The provision of informal care, therefore, can have significant implications for the caregivers’ financial health and overall well-being.

Suggested Citation

  • Gal Wettstein & Alice Zulkarnain, 2017. "How Much Long-Term Care Do Adult Children Provide?," Issues in Brief ib2017-11, Center for Retirement Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:crr:issbrf:ib2017-11

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