5 Potential Causes of the Baby Boomer Caregiver Gap 

In just a few years, the oldest boomers in the baby boomer generation (anyone born between 1946 and 1964) will begin turning 80. This number represents an age when most long-term care needs for older adults typically begin to appear. By 2025, the U.S. will likely notice a surge of elderly individuals who need daily, long-term support. 

While baby boomers often cared for their elders, their children are less likely to fill that same caregiving role. So, where does that leave older adults in the baby boomer generation? In short, with a growing caregiver gap. 

In this article, we’re digging into some of the chief causes of the caregiver gap in hopes that we can collectively work toward reducing it and provide baby boomers with optimal care during the next phase in their lives. 

What Gives? Five Causes of the Caregiver Gap 

Before we dive into the caregiver gap, let’s define what the gap is. Essentially, a caregiver provides care to those in need. Caregivers come in several people-sized packages, including: 

  • Family members 
  • Professional caregivers 
  • Support systems (neighbors, friends, or volunteers) 

With the number of elderly individuals needing care expected to grow exponentially over the next few years, many people worry that there may be a shortage of caregivers to provide that care (a.k.a. the gap). But what are the factors that have led to this shortage? Below, we discuss some of the possible causes: 

#1 Increased Life Expectancy  

Over the last two decades, average global life expectancy has risen to 73 years, marking a remarkable increase of six years in a relatively short period. Compared to the year 1920, when the average life expectancy was only 53.6 years, baby boomers have gained an additional 20 years to ‘live their best lives.’ 

However, what happens when they begin to seek help for everyday tasks like bathing, organizing their medications and general housekeeping? In 2020, one in six Americans were aged 65 and over, exacerbating the national need for care and support during their extended aging process.  

#2 Changes in Social Norms 

Just one or two generations ago, when an older family member’s health declined, younger family members would step in to provide the necessary assistance. From driving them to doctor’s appointments to preparing their daily meals, the younger generation would adjust their routines to ensure the comfort and well-being of their parent or grandparent. 

Fast forward to today. Modern-day adults lead incredibly busy lives. From parenting and carpooling to working full time and keeping up with everyday expenses, many individuals often find it challenging to add caregiving to that long list of daily activities. 

Instead, many rely on professional caregivers to handle the responsibilities that were traditionally managed within the family. While this social shift in caregiving has become commonplace, it intensifies the need to ensure a sufficient number of qualified professionals can deliver care to baby boomers around the country. 

#3 Adjustments to Family Structures 

Another cause for the growing caregiver gap could be the change in familial structures in recent generations. While American multigenerational households had declined to only 21% by 1950, it was still commonplace for married couples to have at least two children. This eventually made it easier to split caregiving responsibilities as parents aged and needed more assistance from their children. 

In today’s society, many children and grandchildren of baby boomers are choosing the new familial norm of having only one child. While many parents enjoy the concept of ‘one-and-done’ parenting, a lack of siblings places more pressure on the only child to take care of their parents and grandparents as they age. 

 #4 The Stigmatization of Aging 

Ageism refers to the stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination people feel toward others based on their age. According to the World Health Organization, half the world’s population is ageist against older people, which may play a role in deterring individuals from pursuing roles as caregiving professionals. As a result, baby boomers may soon struggle to find enough qualified caregivers to help them with their everyday needs.  

#5 Urbanization 

Picture this: You’ve always lived near your parents. Even after you were married, you rented a home in the same town where most of your family lived. It was the perfect solution for hosting weekly family dinners and making frequent surprise visits to check on your parents. However, when your spouse lands a new job across the country, you’re whisked away from them, leaving you to wonder what you’ll do when they start to require more assistance. 

Similar scenarios are causing the geographical separation of families all over the country, affecting children’s ability to be full-time (or even part-time) caregivers to their parents. 

Help Reduce the Caregiver Gap 

With baby boomers currently making up 21% of the United States population, it’s essential to break the stigma of aging. By establishing a more positive view of the elderly, we may see an increase in interest in careers centered on caretaking and gerontology, creating a brighter future for today’s aging adults and those of future generations. 

At the University of Florida, we offer three online graduate credential programs that are flexible, affordable and can be completed in as little as one year. They’re crafted with a blend of relevant courses that will enhance your resume, teach you the skills needed in a variety of careers in gerontology and prepare you for other higher education programs, such as med school. 

Our online graduate programs include: 

Not only will you be pursuing an online graduate program tailored to your unique interests and goals, you’ll be earning a graduate credential that allows you to play a pivotal role in assisting older adults as they transition between life stages. 

Apply today! 

Sources:
https://www.statista.com/statistics/296974/us-population-share-by-generation/
https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/08/aging-baby-boomers-raise-the-risk-of-a-long-term-care-crisis-in-the-us.html
https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/USA/united-states/life-expectancy 
https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2023/05/2020-census-united-states-older-population-grew.html 
https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2018/04/05/a-record-64-million-americans-live-in-multigenerational-households/ 
​​https://www.nytimes.com/1981/11/18/opinion/the-50-s-family-and-today-s.html
https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20230110-only-child-or-siblings-one-and-done
https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/ageing-ageism