Yes, what goes around comes around. The child we once parented has now taken on the role of a parent to us with a complete role reversal. While it may seem that the greater percentage of seniors live alone, the fact is that many have now taken the step to move under one roof with family members.
Pew Research states, “Between 1900 and 1990, the share of adults ages 65 and older living alone increased nearly fivefold, from 6% to 29%. This growth was spurred by a host of factors, including improved health and longevity among older Americans and the economic security that came with social safety net programs such as Social Security and Medicare.”
But since 1990 in the U.S. this same population turned away from living alone, often out of necessity sparked primarily by failing health and dwindling finances. More and more seniors are moving in to live with their children. The child steps into the role of parent where looking after senior family members is concerned.
This is an issue not faced by the U.S. alone as the effect of the housing and care situation for older adults is an international problem as well. How the global community addresses these problems is highly varied and many countries have recognized the growing need to protect the rights and lives of seniors in the course of solving the aging population crisis.
China passed an “Elderly Rights Law” mandating visits to parents by adult children or family with fines or even jail time as punishment for neglect or failure to check up on older persons. Eastern cultures like China value the family as a unit, but the country’s rapid industrialization has forced many adult children to move farther away from their parents, which complicates things greatly.
Korea celebrates the elderly with roles that completely reverse once parents age and in this culture caring for parents is an honorable duty.
Although the Japanese also treasure the family, the rapid increase in elderly population is set to put a strain on adult children and is leading to a whole host of new problems. More than a quarter of Japan’s population is over 65. This is set to increase to 40% by 2055. But Japan does not have the population to care for this increase in .
Western cultures like the U.S and the U.K. are youth-centric which diminishes awareness of the burgeoning senior population and the consequences of that shift. In both countries retirement communities and assisted living facilities have burst onto the housing scene to address some of these issues.
France passed a law in 2004 requiring adult children to provide for aging parents who are incapable of caring for themselves and stipulates that adult children have a legal obligation to pay their parents an “allowance” or provide or fund a home for them. Violators can face fines or prison.
In Mediterranean and Latin cultures it common for multiple generations to live together, sharing not only the home, but responsibilities as well. The older family members are relied on to care for the youngest and the elders become integrated into family life right up to end.
Unfortunately there are definite downsides that may go unrecognized by those wanting to remain alone in their homes. Those who live by themselves often feel more financially disadvantaged and social isolation can become a serious physical and mental health concern. And this seclusion can equate to less time spent with family and may make seniors hesitant to ask for help or guidance from their children. Living alone can mean less interaction with extended family members like grandchildren as well, which is a loss of generational experiences for all.
But for most adults, moving in with children or other family members brings its own stress like loss of privacy and decisions on how to contribute to household and other expenses. Jane Bryant Quinn in an article for AARP, succinctly states what may not be obvious at first glance when contemplating this move:
“Consider meals, chores, TV use, daytime appointments, religious services, music, pets and social activities (yours and your family’s). How much do you want to help and what will your child expect? Can you drive or will you need to be driven? Will you go on family vacations? Do you think your grandchildren aren’t being raised well? (Warning! Think about whether or not you can hold your peace.)”
Around the world, how seniors and their families find solutions to the needs that an aging population brings with it has become a universal conundrum. Perhaps if we would, on a global basis, make more of an effort share the inroads and gains made in the struggle to provide the highest quality of life for people as they age, we would all benefit greatly. Aging is, after all, universal. “The future has arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” – William Gibson.
Stepler, Renee. “Smaller Share of Women Ages 65 and Older Are Living Alone.” Pew Research Center. Presocialtrends.org. 18 February 2016. Web. 17 August 2016. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/02/18/w smaller-share-of-women-ages-65-
“Family Support in Graying Societies.” Pew Research Center. Pew Research. 21 May 2015. Web. 15 August 2016.
Quinn, Jane Bryant. “When Parents Move In With Kids.” AARP. AARP. 6 September 2012. Web. 15 August 2016.
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