Baby boomers squeezed on all sides

Pity the poor baby boomers in the West. They just can't seem to cut a break these days. After losing trillions of dollars from their retirement funds, they are now squeezed by having to pick up the financial shortfall of their loved ones.

Illustration by Gary Clement for The National
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Pity the poor baby boomers in the West. They just can't seem to cut a break these days.

Not only did they lose trillions of dollars globally from their retirement funds during the height of the financial crisis, but their golden years have also been deferred by a number of cash-strapped, debt-laden western governments unable to afford to pay them their pensions.

As if that's not enough, the high cost of living is taking its toll on their adult children and elderly parents, which means they are having to pick up the financial shortfall for their loved ones.

The baby boomers started out with such promise. Born between 1946 and 1964, they grew up during the carefree 1960s and enjoyed unprecedented times of economic prosperity (with a few lows thrown in for good measure).

But, unlike their 21st century counterparts, they were able to buy their own homes for a song and sock away quite a bit of savings in the process, all the while starting families.

Then it all came crashing down in the autumn of 2008, when financial markets plummeted, banks that were too big to fail failed and trillions were wiped off stock markets and lost from investment funds.

It couldn't have come at a worse time. On January 1 last year, the first lot of baby boomers reached the age of 65 - the official retirement age in many countries.

These days, the lot of millions of baby boomers is very different to what they imagined it would be when they were at the height of their careers and life. For one, they are now better known as the sandwich generation.

To their dismay, their boomerang adult kids - who left home, but have returned - are broke and can't afford to rent their own homes, let alone get a leg up on the property ladder.

And their ageing parents, who face high healthcare costs and even bigger expenses associated with moving into, for instance, a retirement home, are also finding it hard financially. So the baby boomers are being "sandwiched" by all that they hold dear. And they are paying dearly for it.

In the United States, a study co-authored by Patrick Wightman and Robert Schoeni found more than 60 per cent of young adults aged from 19 to 22 received financial help from their parents to the tune of US$7,500 (Dh27,548) a year, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, a Merrill Edge report found 49 per cent of affluent Americans said caring for ageing parents and/or adult children was a major financial concern, Reuters added.

"Half of adults aged 18 to 46, along with 42 per cent of baby boomers, reported paying medical expenses for ageing parents and relatives, according to US Trust's 2012 survey of high and ultra-high net worth Americans," Reuters said.

But, according to a study by the Research Centre, based in Washington, many young adults aged between 25 and 34 were more upbeat about their future finances since moving home during the height of the financial crisis.

And why wouldn't they be when they are rooming with the Bank of Mum and Dad?

Across the Pacific, it is a similar tale of woe for Australian parents, who are apparently forking out A$23 billion (Dh88.9bn) a year to their boomerang kids and ageing parents.

A University of Adelaide study said the sandwich generation gave a combined total of $1bn to their elderly parents and $22bn to their adult children.

And over in the United Kingdom, where the sandwich generation is known as the "squeezed" generation, life is not much better.

A survey conducted by the Co-operative Bank looked at how the expanded financial commitments of baby boomers had affected their lifestyle aspirations.

"The squeeze on household income in the current economic climate is felt acutely among the squeezed generation," the study said.

"Two thirds [65 per cent] of this population feels the financial burden of supporting both ends of the family is putting their finances under strain.

"When it comes to effect on lifestyle, over half of the squeezed generation [58 per cent] believe that the financial burden of supporting parents and children is preventing them from having the lifestyle they had previously envisaged having at their age."

There go those dreams of sailing around the world.

But when you think about it, it's not that bad for them.

In many other cultures, supporting multi-generational families has been the norm for centuries and is still common today.

We see many of these "sandwich" generations in the UAE - although they are not necessarily baby boomers. They are from the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan; all over.

And all of them, many on low salaries, support extended families back home. In fact, they are often the only breadwinners.

They have sacrificed a lot for their loved ones and live far from home just to support them.

This is what they have been doing for generations, unlike those western baby boomers who are moaning about taking care of their families during times of financial crisis, all the while missing out on the lifestyle they envisaged for themselves at this age.

That's not much of a sacrifice in my book.

What do you think?