Baby boomers now approaching the Medicare years may be bringing a time bomb with them.
Half of them have been divorced, and researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that elderly people with divorce in their lives will get less care from their children than people who do not. They are even less likely to get help from their stepchildren.
The implications for Medicare and Medicaid could be profound.
This year, 35 million Americans are aged 65 or older, one in eight. By 2010, it will be one in five with the arrival of the first wave of boomers, children born in the euphoria and prosperity of the post-war years. Because their divorce rate was so high, the burden of taking care of them will fall even more heavily on the public sector, already strapped to meet demand. Family structures have changed, according to Liliana Pezzin, a Ph.D., economist and assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Center for Demography of Aging. In short, something profound is broken with divorce, and it has effects even in the last years of life, sometimes decades removed from the divorce.
The Hopkins study, co-authored with Barbara Steinberg Schone and published in Demography, studied the first wave of the Assets and Health Dynamics of the Elderly (AHEAD) survey, which looked at community residents 70 and older in 1993. The researchers sought out unmarried parents with children or stepchildren, either widowed or divorced, and based their conclusions on a survey sample of 2,840 individuals. (Married couples are likely to take care of each other.) The subjects all were young people before and during World War II, with a comparatively low divorce rate of 7 percent.
The researchers looked at three aspects of the subjects' lives: families living together, financial payments or support from children to parent, and time spent by children with parents.
What Schone and Pezzin found was that people who had been divorced were much less likely to reside with a child and
Contact: Joel Shurkin
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions