Monday, September 22, 2008

Anticipating eldcercare responsibilities, should single people buy more "house" than they need?

Yesterday (Sept 21, 2008) I reviewed a book about marriage and social dependencies by an American University law professor (see my books blog) that, three-fourths the way into the book, made a bald statement that definitely can affect single and childless people (straight or gay). She suggested that in many families, an unmarried adult without his (or her) own children might be persuaded by other family members to move in with and support aging parents. There are obvious variations on this situation: what about an only child, for example?

As I noted before, demographics are making eldercare a pressing issue. While some seniors live into their 90s or even past 100 with few problems (one featured on ABC actually still works as a financial planner), many others live longer but could face years of dependency and frailty, and Alzheimer’s disease is growing exponentially into a public health problem that may match HIV in scale, even if for totally different reasons. This may explode into the next big public policy shock, and suddenly. The ability of the long term care insurance industry and nursing home and assisted living business to manage this problem is certainly in question, even more so given the current international financial crisis.

So the availability to give intimate personal care may become a real expectation for some single people who have, for whatever reasons related to their own psychological diversity, pursued “separate” lives, often in urban areas, or sometimes in unusual occupations requiring a great deal of travel (try astronaut). In human society, there is more to life than baby making, and yet sometimes priorities seem to come calling.

One strategy that a single person who believes that he or she could wind up in this position could follow is, wherever he or she lives, to purchase a home large enough to house a parent(s) with some separate privacy. This gets to be an interesting question if the individual has chosen to rent in a large city in order to save time and commuting costs and have more time for personal pursuits outside of family. But by buying a house large enough to house a dependent family member he or she will keep “sovereignty” over his or her own life, social and political loyalties, career, and even the ability to speak individually about things without possibly imperiling others who have now become dependent. This could be a good time to do that, given the lower home prices and foreclosures available (as awful as it sounds to take advantage of what has become an economic tragedy for many people).

The author (Nancy D. Polikoff) mentions earlier work by Martha Albertson Fineman in which the concepts of “inevitable dependency” and “derivative dependency” are defined. Someone who is essentially forced into a caregiving role becomes a “derivative dependent” because he or she is in turn forced to depend on others in ways that she or she previously would have found objectionable. Fineman points out that we are all “subsidized”, whether we like to admit is or not.

Having more housing than one needs (which sounds risky in an environment of falling home prices, but the fall will not go on forever) raises another question in some areas of the country. In inland southern cities 200-300 miles or more from water (Dallas, Austin and Atlanta come to mind immediately) persons may, through their own church or community connections, find they are encouraged to take on “guests” after natural disasters, particularly Gulf hurricanes that are becoming increasingly destructive.

It seems that we are less sovereign individually than we were before the current millennium started.

Update: Sept. 23

The front page of USA Today has a story by Greg Toppo and Anthony DeBarros, "More parents move in with kids: In-laws, too, and others," link here.

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