Friday, January 28, 2005

Old Folks Home or Old Folks *at* Home?

If you've read, watched, or heard any news lately, Social Security is obviously one of the hot topics right now. It's at the top of President Bush's "overhaul" list..well, second to "Overhaul Society", but still, it's still pretty important for him.

Whatever your opinion about the need for Social Security reform, I got to thinking about the desi angle on old peeps. The first thing that came to mind was...does India even have something like Social Security?

While there are pension programs (more akin to 401k's), I think the main form of social security is family. That's right, the kids pay the bills. While things are changing there, the majority of families I've personally seen in India have one or more older generations living in the household. Whether the children like it or not, they're taking care of their parents.

I've never thought about it too much, but realistically, I expect that at some point in my life, either my parents or my wife's parents will come to live with us. And it's something I'd do happily...of course it depends on timing :)

But seriously, it's something that, for the most part, I can't see American families doing. Not that people hate their parents, it's just not part of the American culture. Kids move out, then ideally, they visit their parents now and again. And eventually, when their parents retire and get too old to vacation, they take care of them by arranging for some sort of care.

Okay, okay, I know I'm generalizing and stereotyping, but seriously, do you know any traditional American families where the kids expect their parents to move in with them once old age hits?

While my parents are quite indepedent and fun-loving, I fully expect them to either move in with us, or move very close to us within 20 years. If they didn't want to do that I'd begin wondering what's up and why they don't want to be near us. Same with my wife's parents. Although they live in Singapore, I fully imagine arranging something whereby we can all be close.

The funny thing about this, is that I haven't even given it much thought. It's just something I expect. It's a part of life. My parents have done all they can to set up a good life for me and my wife. As the cycle of life moves on, their later years will be enriched by enjoying the life we've created. Not from afar. From right here.

Granted, not all Indians think this way. Afterall, there was even a Bollywood movie about children not appreciating their parents in old-age and doing the bare minimum to take care of them. But Baghban probably scared some Indian people into making sure their parents are well taken care of. My reaction to the movie? Who the hell is gonna treat their parents like that?

Yes, I know life here in the US is quite different than in India. Senior medical costs alone are reason enough that childrean can't support their parents in old age here in the US. But let's not confuse issues here. Social Security isn't supposed to cover medical expenses...that's what Medicare's for (and which, by the way, really is in fiscal trouble). Social Security is supposed to cover other living expenses. And for many, this means the retirement home, caretakers, and the like.

So anyways, in the abstract, it make me sort of laugh at the whole Social Security issue here in the US right now. I don't expect my parents will ever need the SS checks because they'll have us. And hopefully, I don't need to worry about the checks in my old-age either. Now, let me go make sure my 401(k)'s still solvent :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is something I've always give a thought to. Actually, in the past when pursuing a serious relationship it was always a topic I'd bring up "I would like to take care of my parents in my old age, how do you feel about that?" However, something that I've noticed over the years is that I'm not sure my parents would want to stay with me. The key reason is that I'm not a SON! Coming from a family of three girls and being the oldest, I always thought that the duty would fall upon me...but I've noticed that my parents would feel like they are imposing on my husband's household. WTF is up with that?! Its my household too...but with Indian parents even in the 21st century...they believe they could only stay with the son. I could go on...maybe I'll write a blog about this! :P ~Nandhini