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Multi-Generational Views on Family Financial Obligations: A MetLife Survey of Baby Boomers and Members of Generations X and Y – 2012


In this national survey across three “generations” by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, respondents across all ages value being financially independent in old age and “not being a burden on their children.” Importantly, they all feel a strong sense of responsibility to support an elderly parent who cannot live independently. MetLife, the financial services corporation, routinely conducts studies like this one to provide insights into the current financial mindset of Americans.

The goal of this study is to better understand the financial obligations and responsibilities each generation feels toward providing for their family members. They define the generations as Boomers, born 1946-64, Generation X, 1965-76, and Generation Y, 1977-1990. The birth years of the two younger generations used here are not universally accepted as the start and end dates by demographers. Most demographers define “generations” as lasting 18-20 years, or long enough for those born in the first year to reach adulthood.

Key Points

The report offers statistical data gathered from the survey of 2,123 Americans age 21 to 65 regarding their feelings toward financial obligations to family such as paying for children’s college education or caring for older parents or grandparents. The research also explores how different generations have planned for these financial responsibilities and obligations through the use of wills, inheritances, life insurance and other financial products.

Other report highlights include:

  1. While there are some differences across the generations, it is difficult to determine if they are generational or simple due to the differences in life stages.Boomers are nearing retirement and empty nesters. Gen Xers face funding college educations, and Gen Ys have recently become parents.
  2. Most Americans are focused on maintaining their financial well-being through retirement to avoid burdening children and family members as they grow older. To that point, few are concerned with leaving an inheritance to their children. Boomers are the least likely to view leaving an inheritance to family members as a current financial responsibility.
  3. The majority of each generation surveyed expressed a willingness to allow an older parent or relative to live with them in case of financial need. Interestingly, much fewer indicated they would support a child who over-spent and ran out of money.

How to Use

For community planners and local officials, understanding the family financial obligations and mindsets across the generation may help in thinking about how to allocate limited public resources. If family members plan to step in and help an elderly relative in need, the obligations of the public sector could be mitigated. Unfortunately, in reality the community has to step in based on individual circumstances and realities of the day. The Great Recession, for example, has likely shaped the opinions of Boomers on the need to save for retirement over leaving an inheritance. So use this study carefully: survey responses about hypothetical actions in the future may not always prove accurate.

View full report: Multi-Generational Views on Family Financial Obligations: A MetLife Survey of Baby Boomers and Members of Generations X and Y – 2012 (PDF – 409 KB)

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