Grandparenting’s Strong Tradition Underpins Evolution
Grandparents represent a strong economic and demographic base with great spending power—yet the role they play goes well beyond the financial realm, according to a new AARP survey.
Collectively grandparents spend a total of $179 billion per year on their grandchildren, approximately $2,562 per grandparent. Those dollars are going toward a variety of expenses and spending choices, the survey found, from gifts to education and day-to-day costs.
Since 2001, the number of grandparents has grown by 24%, from 56 million to 70 million. By age 65, 96% of Americans are grandparents. Four in ten grandparents work, contributing to their strength as a significant market force.
The AARP survey revealed that while grandparents make important financial contributions to their grandchildren, they also share wisdom and guidance. Many say they relish giving advice on everything from health to education, thereby providing a moral compass as well as emotional and social support.
Grandparents also contribute to their grandchildren’s well-being by babysitting or by acting as their primary caregivers. One in ten live in the same household as their grandchildren and babysit, and 5% of these grandparents provide their grandchildren’s primary care, according to the national representative sample.
A strong majority (73%) of the grandparents surveyed enjoy their role and rate their performance as high, up from 66% in 2011. In addition, most say they believe their parenting skills are better than those of today’s parents.
While many grandparents embrace their traditional roles, the way they relate to and engage with their grandchildren is evolving as social attitudes and technology change. For example, while most still answer to “grandma” and “grandpa,” one in 20 prefers to be called by their first name.
Demographics are also changing in the United States, and grandparents are rolling with it, on a whole embracing multiculturalism. Currently, one-third of grandparents surveyed have grandchildren of a different race or ethnicity than their own.
Grandparents who have a grandchild of a different race or ethnicity say it is important to help their grandchildren learn about the heritage they share. In addition, seven in ten make an effort to help their grandchildren learn about the heritage they do not share.
In contrast to former generations, today’s grandparents are more accepting of their grandchildren’s different sexualities as well, with a majority saying they would support an LGBT grandchild.
Although distance and busy schedules present a challenge, grandparents find ways to connect with their grandchildren. Distance is the biggest barrier for grandparents who want to see their grandchildren. Over half have at least one grandchild who lives more than 200 miles away, and about a third live more than 50 miles from their closest grandchild.
To help close geographical distances, grandparents increasingly travel to visit their grandchildren and take “skip-gen” trips by vacationing with their grandchildren without the children’s parents.
With four in ten grandparents in the workforce today, their busy schedules as well as the schedules of their children and grandchildren create the second largest barrier to spending time with their grandchildren. However, many feel it’s vital to connect with their grandchildren because it gives them a mental and emotional boost. To overcome time constraints, grandparents increasingly adopt new technologies, such as group texting and video chats. As grandparents’ use of new technologies increases, however, their use of phone calls to contact their grandchildren decreases, perhaps as a consequence. Only 46% say they reached out to their grandchildren by phone in 2018, while 70% did in 2011.
Today, grandparents often seek out new information about how to actively engage with their grandchildren because they want to remain an important part of their grandchildren’s lives. Although traditional media remains a relevant resource, grandparents also welcome online media sources for grandparenting information because they know that, ultimately, the more emotional support grandparents and grandchildren give each other, the happier and healthier they all will be.
The online survey of 2,654 grandparents ages 38+ was conducted between August 20 and September 4, 2018. For more information, please contact Brittne Nelson Kakulla at email@example.com. For media inquiries, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
David, Patty, and Brittne Nelson-Kakulla, Ph.D. 2018 Grandparents Today National Survey: General Population Report. Washington, DC: AARP Research, April 2019. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00289.001