Millennials face the ultimate “adulting” choice: should they have a baby or take care of their parents?

Annabel Rocha, Reckon News

Millennials, the generation of nostalgia, are being forced to grow up and face the ultimate “adulting” choice: have children or take care of their parents.

Graduate college, get married, have children. It’s the traditional path of life engrained in many Americans from an early age, the “right way” to do life. But as millennials age and are hit with the grappling reality of college loan debt and the potential third recession to occur within their lives, many are abandoning what are traditionally considered the next steps.

In general these days, Americans are having fewer kids. Research from the University of Maryland finds that U.S. birth rates have been dropping since the Great Recession, with 11,000 “missing conceptions” in 2020 and 2021.

Millennials specifically aren’t having kids at the rates past generations did. In 2021, Pew Research Center found that 44% of adults 18 to 49 who were not parents said that they were not likely to ever have children. 3 in 5 millennials said they don’t have kids because it’s too expensive.

And while many millennials are actively deciding not to raise their own children, it’s not an offshoot of the selfish, entitled stereotype applied to this generation. Many are forgoing parenthood to accommodate the needs or future needs of their parents. In September 2023, 66% of adults said that grown children should have a great or fair amount of responsibility in caring for their elderly parents. As previous generations continue to age, many millennials are up to bat as the next round of caretakers.

The cost of caring for a parent

Millennials already are or are next in line to aid aging family members. By 2018, 25% of caretakers of older adults were millennials, according to AARP.

About 33% of millennials have already started financially planning to care for their parents, according to a survey by Caring Advisor. Individuals included in the survey had an average of $3,100 saved for their parent’s care, leaving a wide financial gap between what they have and what they’ll need.

The cost of elder care in the U.S. ranges by the individual needs of a person, where they live and whether they need in-home care or care in a facility. According to Vox, the median yearly cost of in-home elderly care was $54,912 in 2020, with the median cost for a private room in a nursing home costing $54,912.

It’s not just millennials facing economic instability, as Gen Z is facing a similar financial situation. Only 45% of adults 18 to 34 say they’re completely financially independent from their parents, according to Pew Research Center, and many are choosing to live at home. 54% of adults between the ages of 18 and 25 lived with their parents in 2022, and according to Harris Poll, 48% of Gen Z say they’re unable to move out of their parents’ home due to financial struggles.

Financial service corporation Fidelity says that much of this financial burden of caretaking for parents or for children falls on women who are more likely to exit the workforce, reduce work hours or change their schedules. They also experience long term loss of income through contributing less to benefits.

“For many women, fewer contributions to pensions, Social Security, and other retirement savings vehicles are the result of reduced hours on the job or fewer years in the workforce,” said Ann Dowd, vice president at Fidelity said in a 2023 article on caring for aging parents. “Women are more likely than men to spend years out of the workforce raising children and caring for an older relative or friend.”

Millennials are already in record numbers of debt and have a 20% lower net worth than Gen X and Baby Boomers did at their age, according to Forbes in 2023. A February 2023 report by the Federal Reserve showed that people between the ages of 30 and 38 account for $4 trillion of total household debt in the U.S, with student loans being a major contributor. Their mounting student debt totals reach a median of $25,000-$30,000 per borrower, and while inflation has reportedly slowed, the cost of essential products like gasfood and even child care are up, making it more costly to get by.

Though taking on another dependent may not be a role millennials are ready to financially take on, it isn’t stopping them. 1 in 3 millennials who are planning to care for their parents said they will have to take on a second job in order to do so.

About a quarter, or 14.6 million, of all Hispanics are Millennials, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

The U.S. lacks a culture of caretaking for parents

The viral “List” began circulating on Tik Tok in February 2022 when creator @yuniquethoughts shared her recorded pros and cons of having children. Since then, it’s grown to 350 cons, reasons not to have children, as she stitches other creators’ posts about their unexpected, funny, and even scary experiences with parenthood.

But the struggles of raising children go deeper than “frequent urination” and “they cough on your face.” Affording to raise a child with the mounting cost of living in a country that lacks federal parental leave has many feeling like children are not a viable option for them.

Bringing a new baby home is no easy feat. Besides the financial cost of welcoming your bundle of joy – which now is averaging at $18,865 in 2024, according to Forbes – childcare now costs more than college tuition in 28 states, according to research published by Net Credit in October 2023.

Bailey Marie-Forêt is a postpartum doula and anthropologist in New York who says that the U.S. lacks a supportive culture of care for parents, which she discussed in a January 2023 Tik Tok.

“It becomes this pipeline of where there just are no structural elements to support being a parent. Whether that’s affordable childcare, whether that’s support immediately after childbirth. It becomes this pipeline of where really so much of the burden is on parents to figure it out, and the system that is not supporting them,” she told Reckon.

Pulling yourself up from the bootstraps is the American standard: you can achieve anything you want, as long as you put in the hard work it takes. We see this trickle down into our ideas of parenthood, and especially motherhood. Marie-Forêt says that because care – of children and elders –  is considered “feminine work,” it’s undervalued.

“When that type of work is then paid by somebody, that’s not kin, it’s then also underpaid and undervalued… It’s like teachers, right? It’s one of the most important jobs, in my mind, in the world because it’s so intimate and so important, but it’s not necessarily paid well in the U.S.” said Marie-Forêt.

Fully integrating postpartum care into insurance coverage as an integral part of birthing, Marie-Forêt says, could help new parents and those considering starting a family to feel more supported in their decision.

“That would be my ultimate dream and goal that the culture, I guess you could say a culture of care, is instituted in a way that is a no brainer at that it’s something in service that’s automatically provided,” she said.

Cover Photo: Stuck between a rock and a stork, millennials are juggling financial strain, societal expectations, and the very real need for caregiving. (Michelle Zenarosa, FatCamera/FatCamera, Oscar Wong, Michelle Zenarosa)

Publisher’s Notes: Millennials face the ultimate “adulting” choice: should they have a baby or take care of their parents? was first published on Reckon.

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