Being a caregiver is hardly a situation that is unique to the United States. Worldwide, people live longer today than at any point in history. The increased longevity of the general population means increased opportunities for families to spend time with previous generations and brings other added benefits. Yet it also means there is more of a challenge--not only in the U.S. but worldwide--when it comes to addressing elder care. This article discusses some of the prevailing societal positions on caregiving from across the globe.
In the U.S. the typical household consists of parents and children. The parents work to raise the children until the children have reached an adequate level of responsibility and self-sufficiency to leave home and start raising their own children. While homes where a grandparent lives with the family are not unheard of, they are certainly not the norm.
Many places in the world deviate from the U.S. familial pattern and maintain multigenerational homes. In these homes, it is the norm for at least three generations--sometimes more, depending on the longevity of the occupants--to live under the same roof.
This arrangement, while not without its challenges, provides the opportunity for increased participation of the entire family in providing cradle-to-grave care for one another. Typically the grandparents will assist in providing care for the grandchildren, especially during times when the parents must leave the home to go to work or travel. As the grandchildren age and become more capable, they in turn begin to assist in providing care for the grandparents. The grandparents typically remain in the family home during the latter stages of life, receiving caregiver assistance from children and grandchildren.
Advantages of multigenerational homes
This arrangement is somewhat easier on caregivers as well as their elderly loved ones. Instead of one adult child becoming the primary caregiver--which is quite common in the U.S., at least in situations where an elderly person has a family member acting as a caregiver--the responsibility can be shared among the adult children living in the home as well as by the older grandchildren. Such an arrangement lessens the stress on any one adult child by spreading the weight of responsibility across several caregivers.
Finally, by only paying to maintain one household instead of multiple ones, the overall cost of living to the family unit is reduced.
In addition to relieving the levels of stress placed on adult children caregivers and being beneficial to the elderly who are in need of care, this arrangement facilitates the financial health of the entire family unit. In the earlier stages of the multigenerational family's life, the grandparents are able to provide daycare services. This allows the parents to save significantly on daycare expenses. At the later stages of the grandparents' lives, because the family unit as a whole is able to play the role of a caregiver, the adult children may not have to leave their jobs to give care, as is common in the U.S. This, too, assists in the family's financial health. Finally, by only paying to maintain one household instead of multiple ones, the overall cost of living to the family unit is reduced.
In addition to the stress-related and financial benefits of maintaining a multigenerational home, people in countries where this is the norm will likely have a closer emotional bond between the elderly and their caregivers. This is especially true in homes with multiple children, as the average time an adult child spends with his or her elderly parents will decrease markedly when there are multiple adult children. Maintaining a multigenerational home provides additional opportunities for interaction and bonding between the elderly and adult children.
Although it is impossible to say that one cultural norm is better than another, the practice of maintaining a multigenerational home--followed in many areas across the globe--definitely brings with it some advantages. These advantages include stress management for caregivers, financial benefits to the family unit as a whole, and stronger emotional ties between the elderly and their adult children.
Rainer, Helmut and Siedler, Thomas. Family Location and Caregiving Patterns from an International Perspective. April, 2010. Available at http://ftp.iza.org/dp4878.pdf. Last visited December 4, 2015.
Snelling, Shari. Caregiving Is A Small World After All. November 25, 2015. Available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sherri-snelling/caregiving-is-a-small-world_b_8585670.html. Last visited December 4, 2015.