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Senior discounts: Adult children subsidized by senior parents

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Kay and Connie Wells in their living room in West Valley City.

Kay and Connie Wells in their living room in West Valley City.

Michael De Groote, Deseret News

The Golden Years are increasingly becoming the years where seniors bail out their adult children.

Claude Fischer, professor of sociology at University of California, Berkeley, writes on The Berkeley Blog about how he feels slightly guilty taking advantage of senior discounts when seniors can afford things better than young people with children. He says slanting things to favor seniors harkens to an earlier time.

"Back in the day — say, before the '60s — the assumption was that most old people could make it through their sunset years only with financial and personal help from their grown children," Fischer writes. "In last few decades, the flow of money and of energy has been largely going the other way.

"The hard data on trends are few," Fischer writes. "Nonetheless, new studies suggest that, while most older Americans do not give significant amounts of money to their adult children — to those, say, 23 and older — more parents are doing so and they are giving greater amounts. Part of the explanation is that the parents (and grandparents) of today's 20-somethings are somewhat better off than their predecessors were, so they have more to give. And part is that their children are somewhat needier — less likely to be employed and to be married."

As Neil Shah says in his blog at the Wall Street Journal, "Older people are quietly serving as an emergency-support system for adult children struggling with a weak economy and high joblessness — and indeed, with years of slow wage growth and declining economic mobility."

Shah gets statistics from UCLA sociologist Judith Seltzer: "Roughly one in four adults 25 years old and over got $100 or more from parents in 2011," Shah writes. "The average gift was $6,500. Better-educated parents were more likely to give: Nearly 37 percent of adults with college-educated parents received assistance."

In a Deseret News article on the topic, Connie and Kay Wells say just giving money to children wouldn't always be helpful — and sometimes would just enable children to not take responsibility. "If you help them out too much, you are not really helping them out; you are hurting them," Connie says. "And if something happened to you, they wouldn't know how to survive."

Carolynn Cong at the Brown University’s Daily Herald in Providence, R.I., writes that Seltzer's studies show that sometimes the elderly move in with their adult children to combine family resources and decrease money pressure.

"Rising generational inequality can be attributed to the improving Social Security system and rising debt among the younger generation, according to the report," Cong writes.

But relying on older parents isn't necessarily just the privilege of the young. Connie Wells says she knows some adult children in their 50s still financially dependent on their 80- and 90-year-old parents. "They've bailed them out so often that (the adult children) haven't learned the value of money."

EMAIL: mdegroote@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @degroote

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