Boomers' Duties to Parents and Children Linger During the 1960s, many baby boomers spurned convention and the obligations that hemmed in their parents. But as the first baby boomers start turning 60 in January, a new study finds that many find themselves with lingering responsibilities to both their parents and children.

Boomers' Duties to Parents and Children Linger

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The baby-boom generation, born between 1946 and 1964, vowed to remake society. In many ways, by virtue of its sheer size, it did. This coming January baby boomers start turning 60, and today Pew Research released a survey that offers a glimpse of the generation. NPR's Kathleen Schalch reports.

KATHLEEN SCHALCH reporting:

The study's title reflects its findings. It's called From the Age of Aquarius to the Age of Responsibility. Paul Taylor, vice president of the Pew Research Center, says during the '60s boomers may have spurned convention and the obligations that hemmed their parents in. But...

Mr. PAUL TAYLOR (Vice President, Pew Research Center): The snapshot now, three or four decades later, is of an extremely conventional and stable set of relationships, where you have a middle generation that is playing the role that middle generations traditionally do of caring both for parents and for children. And there's no suggestion that it's rebelling against this.

SCHALCH: In fact, its sandwich-generation responsibilities are lingering longer. One reason is that boomer women were twice as likely as their mothers to put off having kids until after age 30.

(Soundbite of children playing)

SCHALCH: Forty-four-year-old Dixie Bosley Smith(ph) of Washington, DC, watches her kids play in the basement. Seven-year-old Colby(ph) jumps rope. Four-year-old Colin(ph) dribbles a basketball.

Ms. DIXIE BOSLEY SMITH: He goes to school on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and the rest of the time we get to play.

Unidentified Boy: I'm hungry.

Ms. SMITH: Honey, do you want to go upstairs? Do you want to go upstairs?

Unidentified Boy: I'm hungry.

Ms. SMITH: OK, come on.

My husband and I were married nine years before we had kids, and we traveled a lot, and we held off having kids.

SCHALCH: Boomers with older kids aren't exactly out of the woods, either, according to Pew's Paul Taylor. He says two-thirds of boomers with kids 18 or older are still supporting them, at least partially.

Mr. TAYLOR: Close to 20 percent have an adult child living in their home, an adult child, by the way, who is, quote-unquote, "financially independent"; that is to say not in college or something like that.

SCHALCH: Carol Robidoux of Manchester, New Hampshire, has kids in middle school, high school, college and a 29-year-old who lives in their old house back in Pennsylvania. She still helps with repairs.

Ms. CAROL ROBIDOUX: You know, we get those calls at 2:00 in the morning or something like, you know, `Mother, Father, where are you? The heater stopped working. I need help.' And people think you're crazy if you're sort of nurturing your over-21 children a little bit. They're like, `What's the matter with that kid? Can't he get a job or something?' And it's like, `No, you don't understand. It's hard out there.'

SCHALCH: In addition to nurturing children, many boomers are also taking care of parents.

Mr. TAYLOR: One of the things that's different is that the boomers who are now in their 40s and 50s are more likely to have parents who are still living than were previous generations of that same middle age.

SCHALCH: More than 70 percent have at least one living parent. Dixie Bosley Smith has two. She monitors their health. His lawyer brother deals with legal issues. Her two other siblings pitch in, too.

Ms. SMITH: My sister does all the accounting and bookkeeping, and my brother does, you know, maintenance, construction on their home. So it's like we're all just kind of there watching over them, in a similar way that they watched over us when we were little.

SCHALCH: But it's often hard, especially when parents are sick and live far away. Carol Robidoux's mom recently died, and her dad just got out of the hospital.

Ms. ROBIDOUX: It's a very scary thing sometimes. I think it's sad, and it's a desolate place to be. And I feel like I really should be there. And it's very frustrating, and then you have kids, young kids, in school. So can you take off for a few days to take care of your father and leave your children at home to eat microwave popcorn with your husband? I mean, it's a gamble. You know, it's a gamble.

SCHALCH: The Pew researchers say worries like these do take a toll.

Mr. TAYLOR: The burden of having an elderly parent who needs help just to get on with daily life does result in some diminishment of overall satisfaction with family life.

SCHALCH: But as a group, the survey found, nearly nine out of 10 baby boomers say they are either very or somewhat satisfied with their family life. Kathleen Schalch, NPR News, Washington.

NORRIS: There's more about boomer satisfaction with family life and other highlights from the Pew Research Center's study at npr.org.

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