Are baby boomers the greatest?

We've heard a lot over the past decade about the Greatest Generation—born during the Roaring '20s or just before, hardened by the Depression and World War II, tough, resilient, yet openhanded enough to finance such major public initiatives as Medicare and the Space Program. The subsequent Baby-Boom Generation has paled by comparison; often the generalized descriptions of these preening, spoiled, self-centered fussbudgets have been enough to drive one to Maalox.

Their impact on society has been discussed at length and, to some, ad nauseam over many years in all kinds of media. Our own magazine has been featuring an enlightening series on baby boomers' impact on long-term care by analyst Claudia Blumenstock. Her observations are fascinating but, again, those demanding, self-indulgent personalities shine through.

But wait a minute. Might it be that the Baby Boom is in fact the Greatest—or Almost As Great—Generation? What could possibly lead one to this heretical view?

In my case, this has come from reading recent reports on the attitudes of today's 50-somethings toward caring for their elderly parents. What's interesting from these studies is how firmly and willingly these Adult Children step up to the challenge. One study published recently in the journal Inquiry noted that women aged 55 to 67 reduced their at-work hours by an average of 367 hours, or 41%, over the past two years in order to provide some level of care to their parents. Another study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family indicated a strong commitment by Americans, particularly women born in the 1950s and '60s, to caring for their elderly parents. In fact, those selfsame parents said they wished their kids wouldn't bother so much and didn't feel comfortable with the sacrifices being made.

And sacrifices there are. It's not just working hours and careers—these caregivers are at an age when their own kids are headed to or just graduating from college, with all the financial burdens that can impose, along with the usual worries about kids finding their way in the world. This is the group for whom the term Sandwich Generation was coined.

Adding an ironic twist, this is also the group whose own future with eldercare services is very much in question. Medicare is on shaky grounds, healthcare benefits are drying up, and pensions are going the way of the dodo. Society has yet to address any of this at all creatively.

Putting it all together, the baby boomers may turn out to be the most selfless and self-sacrificing generation America has ever known—quite possibly the Greatest, whether they like it or not. Of course, there's always a fly in the ointment: The aforementioned Journal of Marriage and Family study showed that when it comes to receiving care, women very much get preference. In fact, mothers in good health are more likely to receive their children's support than fathers in poor health.

OK, so maybe us guys aren't into caregiving so much. Can't someone spare us a little love?


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P.S. Note two new columns in this issue: “Moving Toward Evidence-Based” by longtime LTC commentator V. Tellis-Nayak, PhD, and “Your People,” an interactive reader feature by management consultant Yael Sara Zofi.

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