Caregivers are getting younger and younger. In our recent National Care Survey, we were surprised to discover the bulk of caregiving duties are now falling on the shoulders of Gen Xers. We found that around 42 percent of caregivers are aged 34-44 — more than double the number for any other age group.

Juggling families and budding careers, these young caregivers face potentially damaging stress to their already busy lives. With 48 percent of after-death caregiving scenarios arising suddenly and unexpectedly, they can be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Here is what we learned about these Gen X caregivers, their challenges, and what support they need.

Today’s Younger Caregiver

A little more than half of these Gen X caregivers are assisting a loved one, while 44 percent are settling estates after a death. Nearly 70 percent say they were either “completely unprepared,” or were surprised by the extent of their duties after a death.

Regardless of gender, Gen X caregivers almost uniformly report having young families, budding careers, or both simultaneously. At a time of life when they are busy juggling many responsibilities, taking on caregiving is like being tossed a bowling ball.

As caregiving duties stretch into months or even years, Gen Xers are forced to take substantial time off from work, and sacrifice time at home with their families. In fact, more than nine out of ten say they’ve suffered from both. These caregivers are torn between the generation that raised them and the one needing to be raised.

Why Caregiving Hurts Careers

Around 70 percent of today’s caregivers say they work full- or part-time jobs. Nearly half of these working Gen X caregivers say they lose several hours of work per week, with another 40 percent using multiple vacation days each month to meet the demands of caregiving. Additionally, some 13 percent report having to take extended leaves.

The timing for Gen X couldn’t be worse. This significant circumstance comes at a point when these young men and women are attempting to lay the foundations for long careers. For example, when Delia knows she must be available to respond to her aging grandfather, she’s less likely to accept a promotion that involves travel. She also spends time at work taking phone calls involving his care and worrying about his health.

The lack of caregiver support adds up quickly. Soon enough, Delia is not only passing on promotions, but falling behind. Rather than working toward a promotion, she’s scrambling just to stay afloat at work.

The Price Young Families Pay

Some 52 percent of Gen X caregivers have one or more small children living at home. Of these, 11 percent have families with three or more children, and 9 percent are stay-at-home parents.

More than 38 percent of young caregivers report missing time with their families. Of these, about 45 percent sacrifice several hours per week, with another 45 percent missing several days per month. Nearly one in ten say they’ve spent extended time away.

In addition, more than 50 percent of our surveyed caregivers are driving long distances to manage an estate, or provide care.

With their partner immersed in caregiver duties, Gen X spouses are left to pick up the slack at home. Children miss being with their absent parents.

It all adds up to today’s young caregivers missing valuable recharge time with their families. For example, Delia likely spends many of her Saturdays driving to help her grandfather with yard work and other household chores, instead of watching her daughter’s soccer game.

Rather than being able to focus on home-life during a critical period of family building, Delia is forced to disengage.

How to Support Young Caregivers

The negative effects on Gen X caregivers can be long-lasting, and hard — or even impossible — to reverse. Our experience working with such families has shown us several opportunities for offering caregiver support:

  • Logistical support goes a long way toward mitigating stress. Family members can help by offering to cook meals, run errands, or take a senior to doctor’s appointments. They can extend emotional support by avoiding ‘second-guessing,’ or being critical during estate settlement or caregiving.
  • Aging parents can help out by downsizing and bestowing assets now. This will save caregivers from later having to manage “the stuff,” the number one source of stress during estate liquidation.
  • Employers can be more accommodating of time off for caregiving employees. While some businesses offer long-term care insurance, we hope benefits like consultation with a probate expert, or discounted estate cleanout services, will become the norm of the future.

As opposed to focusing on careers and home-lives, Gen X caregivers are forced to disengage. They miss time from work and family during a crucial period of formation and building, and the negative effects can be hard to reverse. Luckily, there are ways for family members, aging parents, and employers to offer meaningful caregiver support to these vulnerable young volunteers. It takes a team to work through these difficult transitions.