Mid-aged adults loaded with responsibilities of unemployed kids and ageing parents
The "empty nest" of past generations, in which the kids are grown up and middle-aged adults have more time to themselves, has been replaced by a nest that's full - kids who can't leave, can't find a job and ageing parents who need more help than ever before, according to a new study.
What was once a life stage of new freedoms, options and opportunities has largely disappeared, the study by researchers at Oregon State University stated. An economic recession and tough job market has made it hard on young adults to start their careers and families. At the same time, many older people are living longer, which adds new and unanticipated needs that their children often must step up to assist with. The end result, researchers suggest, are "empty nest" plans that often have to be put on hold, and a mixed bag of emotions, ranging from joy and "happy-to-help" to uncertainty, frustration and exhaustion. "We mostly found very positive feelings about adults helping their children in the emerging adulthood stage of life, from around ages 18 to 30," said Karen Hooker, director of the OSU Center for Healthy Ageing Research. "Feelings about helping parents weren't so much negative as just filled with more angst and uncertainty," Hooker said. The findings of this research were based on data from six focus groups during 2009-10. It was one of the first studies of its type to look at how middle-aged adults actually feel about these changing trends. Various social, economic, and cultural forces have combined to radically challenge the traditional concept of an empty nest, the scientists said. The recession that began in 2008 yielded record unemployment, substantial stock market losses, lower home values and increased demand for higher levels of education. Around the same time, advances in health care and life expectancy have made it possible for many adults to live far longer than they used to - although not always in good health, and often needing extensive care or assistance. This study concluded that most middle-aged parents with young adult children are fairly happy to help them out, and they understand that getting started in life is simply more difficult now. Some research has suggested that age 25 is the new 22; that substantially more parents now don't even expect their kids to be financially independent in their early 20s, and don't mind helping them through some difficult times. But the response to helping adult parents who, at the same time, need increasing amounts of assistance is not as uniformly positive, the study found - it can be seen as both a joy and a burden, and in any case was not something most middle-aged adults anticipated. Many middle-aged people said it was difficult to make any plans, due to disruptions and uncertainty about a parent's health at any point in time. And most said they we're willing to help their ageing parents, but a sense of being time-starved was a frequent theme. An increasing awareness of the challenges produced by these new life stages may cause more individuals to anticipate their own needs, make more concrete plans for the future, reduce ambivalent approaches and have more conversations with families about their own late-life care, the researchers said in their study.
The findings of this research were just published in the Journal of Ageing Studies.