Ruthless about codgers?

In the course of one of his repetitive self-pitying anti-babyboomer rants, Paul Watson raises a question that has interested me for some time. That is, the extent to which modern Australian society still involves some reasonably intact version of an extended family structure, where younger generations acknowledge and fulfill obligations towards their aged parents:

Put bluntly, the boomers have never believed in a future for anyone past themselves (possibly barring their own offspring*). … Not surprisingly, general boomer greed and callousness often extends to the personal realm, in terms of their relationships with their own parents.

The state’s remaining apparatus, so much of which has been mass-stripped and melted-down by boomers, is thus expected to devote a disproportionate portion of its stretched resources to caring for parents-of-boomers.

One of the theories about why Mark Latham announced Labor’s very expensive Medicare Gold policy for the over-75s (who mostly don’t vote Labor) was that it would appeal to younger Australians fearful that they might lose their inheritance if their aged parents got sick and were forced to “squander” their accumulated assets on medical bills.

Leaving aside Paul’s strange, pathological hatred of babyboomers, however, I’m wondering whether it’s actually true that younger generations of Australians (babyboomer or otherwise) resent caring for their parents, or contrive to avoid doing so. It certainly isn’t my own family experience, nor does it accord with my observations of friends’ behaviour.

My former wife Jenny and I built a granny flat and cared for her aged mother for several years after her retirement, until Rene could afford to get a flat of her own. And my sister Sue and her husband Adam nursed Adam’s mother for the last year of her life as she died of cancer (selfless behaviour that had disastrous consequences, as I explained in this post).

Moreover, and despite their unfortunate experience with his mum, Sue and Adam are about to do it again. My father is 80, and having increasing problems with blood circulation in his legs. He’s had a number of vein grafts, but there are no more healthy ones available. Next time a vein blocks up (which could be any time), the doctors have told him they’ll have no choice but to amputate his leg. Since my parents live on a very hilly block in a house with lots of stairs, there’s no way dad would manage there once he loses his leg. Sue and Adam (both babyboomers like me, I should note) have kindly offered to accommodate my parents at their place when they’re forced to sell the family home.

Moreover, as far as I can see, this sort of selfless fulfillment of extended family obligations remains very common in Australian society. Many of my middle-aged friends and acquaintances have found themselves in similar situations, and are willingly caring for aged parents (or did so until the latter died). I really do wonder whether Australia is as selfish and atomised a society as popular wisdom would have us believe. Does anyone know of any academic or statistical research on this subject? And what are readers’ own impressions and experiences?

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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2022 years ago

I am 33, with pre boomer parents (born in the late 30s, and left home at 17). My partner is 31 with boomer olds, a sometimes extremely angry anti boomer attitude, and a much longer period under the parental roof.

I think his anger stems in part from his parents’ treating him like a child as an adult in their home, and their encouragement of the manifestations of “getting ahead”. They can’t accept that even with the substanital money they (and my parents) are prepared to give us, we cannot afford to buy a house. In fact, we can’t afford to even rent near them, and moved interstate.

My parents had bonded scholarships and life long careers. I have had a series of contract and temporary jobs, and graduated with $11000 in HECS debt. If I were to do my degree now, it would cost nearly three times that. These things piss some people off.

2022 years ago

Imagine this… the government suggests means-testing aged pensions against childrens’ income. Only pensioners who can prove that they are unable to live with their offspring (because of abuse etc) will be able to claim in their own right. How long would the government last?

The fact that Australian governments can introduce laws like this for allowances to adult children but not old age pensions says something about the family obligations Australians are prepared to recognize.

While many adult children seem quite keen to remain at home (being subsidized by mum and dad), very few parents are as keen to move in with their children when they become widowed or dovorced. Old people in Australia seem to prefer poverty to living under the control of their kids.