Published in the Woonsocket Call on April 14, 2019
AARP’s newest research study, highlighting the latest trends, gives us a peek into the world of grandparenting, a role that millions of Americans now take on in their later years. This number has steadily grown, from 56 million in 2001 to a whopping 70 million today.
The youngest grandparent is about 38 years old, with 50 being the average age of becoming a first-time grandparent, notes Brittne Nelson-Kakulla, AARP Research’s Senior Research. For those with children, by age 65, 96 percent of Americans are grandparents, she says.
“Today’s grandparents are an economic force that cannot be ignored,” said Alison Bryant, senior vice president of research, AARP, in an April 8 statement with the release of this 40-page report. “They are living longer, working longer, shattering stereotypes and supporting their grandchildren in a variety of ways, including financially and culturally. Nearly all grandparents are providing some sort of financial support, helping to ease the costs of raising kids,” notes Bryant.
Grandparents Pump Billion’s into Nation’s Economy
According to AARP’s study, 70 million grandparents can have a major impact on the nation’s economy. Grandparents spend money on their grandchildren, an average of $2,562 annually, this equaling approximately $179 billion dollars per year. Those dollars are spent supporting their grandchildren in a variety of ways, from helping to pay day-to-day expenses (meals, groceries, etc.) allowances, vacations, and school/college tuition costs.
The study found that grandparents have, on average, four to five grandchildren, down from six to seven in 2011. The number of grandparents in the workforce has increased in the past seven years, with 40 percent of grandparents currently employed up from 24 percent in 2011.
Grandparents enjoy the positive aspects of grandparenting such as supporting dreams and sharing roots, history and culture, and experiences, says the AARP study, but they face financial challenges, too. Thirteen percent of grandparent’s struggle with the financial expectations of being a grandparent, including the cost of education, traveling to see the grandchildren.
Seven percent of grandparents have taken on debt to help their grandchildren pay for college and one in four of those grandparents have even cosigned private student loans for their grandchildren and/or incurred credit card debt that has not yet been paid back in full.
Over the decades, the role of grandparenting has remained consistent, observes the AARP study. Grandchildren continue to refer to grandparents as “grandma” or “grandpa” (70 percent to 60 percent respectively). But, one in twenty of the grandparent respondents prefer to be called by their first name.
Serving as a Source of Wisdom
Eighty one percent of the grandparent respondents say they play a key role in their grandchildren’s life. Over half say that they serve as a “moral compass” to the grandchildren on variety of issues ranging from education, morals to values. But they say that discussing topics on sexuality and politics are way “out of their comfort zone.”
Grandparents also see the importance of teaching gender equality and rising the be strong, independent woman, too, says the AARP study.
Thirty four percent of the grandparents say they have grandchildren of mixed or difference races or ethnicities. Nearly all of the respondents believe it is important that these grandchildren know about the heritage they share. Seven in ten make an effort to help their grandchildren learn about the heritage they do not share, says Nelson-Kakulla.
Sixty eight percent say that distance is the biggest obstacle that keeps them from getting enough one-on-one time with their grandchildren. Fifty two percent of the survey respondents have at least one grandchild who lives or 200 miles away, while 29 percent live over 50 miles from the closest grandchild, up from 19 percent in 2011. Like distance, busy full-or part-time work schedules keep grandparents as well as schedules of their children and grandchildren keep them from connecting.
Grandparents are turning away from making phone calls to maintain contact with their grandchildren, turning to new technologies like email, Facebook, Video Chat and Texting to bridge the mileage gap. Forty seven percent “like” the idea of group texting messages to chat with their grandchildren and 67 percent “like” the idea of using online video chatting to keep in touch.
Finally, 89 percent of the grandparent respondents say their relationship with their grandchildren is good for their well-being and 67 percent believe this role makes them more sociable. Sixty six percent say having grandchildren makes them more active, too.
AARP’s 21-minute online survey of 2,654 grandparents ages 38 and was conducted between August 20 and September 4, 2018.by Hotspex, Inc.
For a copy of AARP’s 2018 Grandparents Today National Survey, contact Brittne Nelson- Kakulla, Senior Research Advisor, AARP Research, at firstname.lastname@example.org.