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Adult Children Losing $3 Trillion in Caring for Aging Parents

Americans who take time off work to care for their aging parents are losing an estimated $3 trillion dollars in wages, pension and Social Security benefits, according to a new MetLife study. Meanwhile, the percentage of adult children providing basic care for their parents has skyrocketed in recent years.

Nearly 10 million adults age 50 and over care for an aging parent, MetLife says. For the individual female caregiver, the cost impact of caregiving in terms of lost wages, pension and Social Security benefits averages $324,044. For male caregivers, the figure is $283,716.

The study also identified a dramatic rise in the share of men and women providing basic parental care over the past decade and a half. In 1994, only 9 percent of women and 3 percent of men and were providing care. By 2008, the percentage of women caregivers had more than tripled to 28 percent, while the figure for men had quintupled to 17 percent. "Basic care" is defined as help with personal activities like dressing, feeding, and bathing. Daughters are more likely to provide basic care and sons are more likely to provide financial assistance, the study found.

"Undoubtedly, the impact of the aging population has resulted in increased need within families for family caregiving support," the study notes.

At the same time, MetLife found that adult children age 50 and over who work and provide care to a parent are more likely to have fair or poor health than those who do not provide care to their parents.

The study was based on an analysis of data from the 2008 National Health and Retirement Study (HRS).

The findings have implications for individuals, employers and policymakers, MetLife says. Individuals, it says, should consider their own health when caregiving and should prepare financially for their own retirement. Employers can provide retirement planning and stress management information and assist employees with accommodations like flex-time and family leave.

On the policy side, although only a few states mandate paid family and medical leave, "clearly this policy would benefit working caregivers who need to take leave to care for an aging parent," the study concludes. MetLife also notes that the CLASS Act, a voluntary long-term care insurance program that is part of the new federal health reform law, will provide some coverage for long-term care needs as well as raise public awareness of the issue.

For more on the study, "The MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers: Double Jeopardy for Baby Boomers Caring for Their Parents," click here.