Lauren Westerfield

Writer + Editor

35

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Can Sharing Fix Caring? Millennials, Boomers and the Future of Elder Care

The Pitch: First Draft

Can Sharing Fix Caring? Millennials, Boomers and the future of eldercare

Like many Millennials, I’ve taken the slow road to putting down roots. I’m twenty-nine, precariously employed, cohabiting with my long-term partner, unmarried and childless. Now, after six years together, my boyfriend and I are finally coming around to the idea of having kids. Trouble is, by the time we’re really ready (read: a few more years down the road), we’ll likely be juggling one or both of our aging mothers in the mix.

There’s no getting around it: by 2030, our parent’s generation of Baby Boomers will have completed the transition to “senior” status and constitute 18% of the nation’s population – not to mention a considerable portion of its chronically ill (Pew, December 2010 and November 2013). According to Pew Research Center, nearly half of U.S. adults are caring for a loved one with significant health issues (Pew). As the population continues to age and the oldest Millennials become the youngest caregivers, how will social trends affect the way they approach caregiving – both for their aging loved ones and their own young families?

Perhaps, as Neal Gorenflo of Shareable.net posits, Millennials’ focus on experiential versus material wealth will make them better parents but financially insecure elder caregivers. Or maybe Gen Y’s fluency with digital communication, co-working and connection will inspire innovative solutions for intergenerational living. While they may not be “sexy,” (to quote UCLA sociologist Liz Kofman), these concerns are “really important,” under-discussed and – who knows? – maybe even the impetus for extraordinary social change.

I propose a narrative essay exploring the challenges and opportunities presented by the next generation of caregiving. Supported with insights from sociologist, caregivers, sharing advocates and my own personal experience, the piece will highlight key considerations for the future -- and illuminate new avenues for symbiotic, sustainable living.

I’ve included the following samples of my previous work, published in The Rumpus and Share or Die: Voices of the Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis. Please feel free to contact me with any questions, and thank you for your time.

Best wishes,

Lauren Westerfield

Preliminary ideas, research & brainstorming

Primary Interests/Areas of Expertise

  • holistic health & wellness
  • food
  • yoga
  • literature
  • millenial culture
  • women's issues/gender
  • relationships & communication

Brainstorm: Story Ideas

  • Growing up, I was an only child. I received more than my fair share of attention, but also ceasless support from my parents. Now that I'm pushing 30, my mother and father are separated and living alone. My mother has already faced several serious health crises in the past five years, and the day will come when she will need someone to live with her to faciliate her daily care. When we talk about the future, my partner and I inevitable hit against the fact that, sooner or later, my mother (and most likely, his mother or father as well) will come to live with us. We are not alone in this: as the Boomer generation ages and their collective need for health care grows, more and more Millenials like ourselves -- many of whom have put off traditional career paths and financial milestones like marrying, buying a home or having kids in order to maintain independence and flexibility in a challenging economy -- will face the prospect of "parenting" their own parents. How different is the reality of living wtih a new baby and that of living with an aging parent? How much independence is or should be enough to free an only child from the sense that he or she needs more time to explore the world unfettered -- to "do it myself?" How does my own notion of independence jive with today's sharing culture, and how might the latter form a support network and source of inspiration for Millenials juggling career fulfillment, their own families and the needs of aging loved ones? 
  • Possible angle: millenial's "failure to launch," living at home, etc and how that will effect/influence circumstances when the tables are turned and mom & dad need/want/have to live with their kids. Similariites, differences, lessons learned from one to the other. 
  • Personal element: my own grandmother came to live with our family when I was in high school, I moved in with my mom when she was sick. Questions of territory, space, concept of home, gender (statistically, do more daughters or sons take in their parents? any trends?)

Refining the Idea

  • All under one roof: the prospect of living with an aging parent, how it influences independence, and how different – or similar – it may be to having a child
  • Personal angle: as a millenial with aging parents, a partner with aging parents and experience as a caretaker (and writing about the elder care industry) who ALSO is trying to decide if/when to have kids, personal experience creates a frame for the story that is relevant to entire generation of my peers.
  • Sources: interview peers, millenial parents, eldercare experts (Colleen Van Horn @ Innovative Healthcare (?)), sociologists (Liz Kofman @ UCLA (?)), etc. 
  • Format: longform journalistic essay/feature

Research:

  • Between 2010 and 2050, global population estimates show reduced growth and a concentration of individuals in the oldest age range (65-above) as Boomers continue to age (Pew, Jan. 30 2014).
  • Many of these Boomers are still providing a home for their kids, Millenials (ages 18-29) who have been dubbed the "Boomerang" generation for moving back in with family after college as opposed to striking out on their own. As of August 2013, U.S. Census Bureau data showed at least 36% of young adults live in their parent's homes (Pew) -- the highest percentage in over four decades. 
  • Impact of "Boomerang" living on Millenials, Boomers and their relationships?While nearly half of those 25-34 year olds interviewed on the subject say it made no difference to their relationships, the other half was split down the middle indicating "bad" (25%) and "god" (24%) results from the arrangement (Pew, March 15 2012). 
  • Most of this data is related to young adults living at home for economic reasons. But what about the flip side -- young adults who live in multi-generational households to help care for aging parents? 
  • Every day for the next fifteen years, 10,000 Boomers will turn 65 (Pew, December 20 2010). By 2030, this group will have completed the transition -- constituting 18% of the nation's population as 65 and over. 
  • As of November 2013, 45% of U.S. adults reported living with one or more chronic health conditions -- and according to the same study, these same adults tended to be older. As of June 20, 2013, 4 in 10 U.S. adults are caring for an adult or child with significant health issues...especially prevalanet among ages 30-64. But as the population tide moves further and further into the 65+ territory, and the oldest Millenials become the youngest caregivers, how will trends affect the way they approach caregiving (and parenting?)**  
  • **get numbers re: Millenials and parenting as well

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