A new generation of caregivers is on the rise. More and more often, those caring for an aging parent, grandparent, ill child or disabled relative fall in the millennial age range. About a quarter of all of the approximately 44 million caregivers in the U.S. are between the ages of 18 and 34, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute.
These young people spend an average of just over 20 hours a week driving to and from doctor’s appointments, preparing meals, administering medications and more.
Millennials are an important part of the “caregiver economy,” helping to relieve the burden on the health care system by providing part of an estimated $470 billion in unpaid care coming from family caregivers.
Millennials are also unique as caregivers.
Millennial caregivers are, on average, about 27 years old—much younger than what most people think of as the “typical” caregiver in their 40s or 50s. Interestingly, millennial caregivers are just as likely to be male as they are to be female.
They’re also likely to work part-time, about 35 hours a week or more, and live with or in close proximity to the person they’re caring for.
As caregivers, millennials face unique challenges. They’re often just getting started in a career path, and may be dealing with employers who aren’t accommodating of caregiver scheduling needs. Stepping up as a primary caregiver can mean a burgeoning career goes on the backburner for a few years.
These young caregivers often struggle with feelings of isolation, as well, because of the high demands of caring for a loved one. Commonly, these young caregivers feel as if they’re the only ones in their age group facing the burden of providing care.
And the persistent societal myth of the “narcissistic millennial” doesn’t help in terms of increasing recognition and awareness of the role of young caregivers.
As this group of caregivers continues to grow, advocates would like to see lawmakers provide support in the form of expanded paid family leave policies, and employers offer flexible work environments for those offering care.
At the very least, it’s important to think twice before dismissing all millennials as “selfish” and “narcissistic.” After all, the ranks of millennial caregivers are only going to continue to grow—Bloomberg predicts that by the year 2033, millennials will support more people over the age of 64 than under the age of 18.