40 years old and still tied to Mom and Dad's purse strings
For years they willingly shelled out money - lots of it - for their children. They paid for music lessons and sports equipment, for clothes and toys, for orthodontia and college tuition. Then the nest emptied, and parents assumed the outflow would largely end.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Wrong. These days many parents are facing a new fact of life: ongoing financial help to their adult offspring, even into middle age.
Whether parents rise to the occasion voluntarily to spare their children a struggle, or whether they are being used as ATMs, their generosity is creating a new "cash-dependent" generation tied to parental purse strings - and sometimes apron strings - longer and longer. Financial planners see layoffs, exorbitant housing costs, divorce, and single parenthood as some of the difficulties driving the trend.
"Parents of adult children are probably doing more right now than in previous generations because of the economy and job situation," says Susan Newman, author of "Nobody's Baby Now: Reinventing Your Adult Relationship With Your Mother and Father."
It's not just an American phenomenon. In Britain, one-quarter of parents expect to help their offspring financially through their 30s and into their 40s, a new study finds. One in 4 parents contributed money toward an adult child's car, and 1 in 5 helped pay for a home, according to Lloyds TSB. Others gave middle-aged children a regular allowance or pocket money for daily needs.
It all adds up to big money - an estimated £20 billion ($34.8 billion) a year.
Financial advisers in the United States see similar patterns, and warn that this financial aid can drain retirement savings, jeopardizing parents' economic future. "Some parents don't seem to be able to turn off the spigots," says Ann Perry, author of "The Wise Inheritor."
She adds: "That's when you have a problem, when there seem to be no shut-off valves."
It is common for parents today to give all or part of a down payment on a child's house, she says. Others help a child start a business, or help pay for grandchildren's college tuition. "These are productive uses of money gifts between generations," Ms. Perry says. "They can be a great leg up in life."
That is the hope of Pat Housley of Mount Pleasant, Mich. She shares her house with her 30-something daughter, who has moved back home to finish a business degree.
"I asked her to come home and live, because trying to help her financially stay in South Carolina and work full time on her own wasn't working," says Mrs. Housley, a widow who works at Central Michigan University. "I want to help her achieve her goals in life by becoming independent in a job that pays a good wage and benefits. Without the education, she isn't going to fulfill those dreams."
To save money to help her daughter, Housley gave up her vacation this year and will probably do the same next year. "It's worth it," she says.
For other parents, financial assistance becomes a burden. One professional woman in Georgia, who asked not to be named, has spent tens of thousands of dollars supporting her daughter, a divorced mother of two in her 40s. When the daughter was starting a business and needed money, the two women pooled resources and bought a house together.