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New AARP Survey Finds Grandparents Play Essential Role

Nearly 40 percent of grandparents report contributing to everyday living expenses of their grandchildren


March 29, 2012


Nancy Thompson or Allyson Funk

(202) 434-2560

New AARP Survey Finds Grandparents Play Essential Role

Nearly 40 percent of grandparents report contributing to everyday living expenses of their grandchildren


WASHINGTON— Today, AARP released the results of a new survey providing a snapshot of the essential role grandparents age 50 and older play in the lives of their grandchildren. Through a national telephone survey, the report finds 90 percent of grandparents believe they play an important role in their grandchildren’s lives. 


“Grandparenting is about more than a sense of responsibility,” said Amy Goyer, AARP’s Multigenerational and Family Issues expert. “This survey reinforces that today’s grandparents contribute to the basic quality of their grandchildren’s lives; they are the safety net for American families, helping to pay for practical expenses and necessities. We see many providing daycare services, while growing numbers even have grandchildren living with them.”


When it comes to spending, most grandparents agree they would make sacrifices rather than let their financial situation affect their grandchildren. Forty percent of grandparents reported spending more than $500 on their grandchildren over the last 12 months. They widely report spending beyond traditional gifts, most noticeably contributing to education costs (53 percent), everyday living expenses (37 percent) and medical or dental costs (23 percent). 


The economy and generational differences are shifting still more responsibilities to grandparents. Beyond gifts, 11 percent of grandparents have a grandchild living with them – this jumps to 19 percent for African-American grandparents – and of these, 43 percent are the grandchild’s primary caregiver. Even if grandparents are not serving as caregivers, 16 percent provide daycare services for their grandchildren when parents are at work or school.


More than 80 percent of grandparents report speaking to their grandchildren on the phone at least once a month and more than a third communicate through new technologies such as e-mail, Skype, and text messaging. Fifty percent or more report their conversation topics include morals and values; religion and spirituality; peer pressure or bullying; illegal drugs; and drinking and alcohol use. Thirty-seven percent report discussing dating or sex with at least one of their grandchildren.


The average age of a first-time grandparent is 47; the average age of a grandparent in this survey was 69-years-old. Fifty-five percent are married, while 40 percent are divorced or widowed; 62 percent are retired and 15 percent are still working full-time. Fifty-five percent of grandparents have five or more grandchildren and 24 percent have grandchildren of a different race, mixed race or different ethnicity.


The full “Insights and Spending Habits of Modern Grandparents” report is available at 


The telephone survey obtained interviews with a sample of 1904 grandparents aged 50 and older drawn at random from the United States. The interviews were conducted in English and Spanish by Woelfel Research, Inc. from August 25 to October 6, 3022. The margin of sampling errors are: ± 2.2 percent for the for the random sample of 1904; ± 5 percent for the African American sample of 385; and ± 4.9 percent for the Hispanic sample of 401.


AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a membership that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to either political campaigns or candidates. We produce AARP The Magazine, the definitive voice for 50+ Americans and the world's largest-circulation magazine with nearly 35 million readers; AARP Bulletin, the go-to news source for AARP's millions of members and Americans 50+; and our website, AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


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