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10 Facts About Grandparents

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Grand Generation

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Active grandparent shares his enthusiasm for mountain biking with his grandson.

Modern grandparents are shattering stereotypes.

Photo © Maria Teijeiro / Getty

Marketing groups study how to sell to grandparents. The Census Bureau is interested in households headed by grandparents. The garden-variety grandparent, who isn't raising grandkids and who doesn't have tons of money to spend, is of little interest to most researchers. What do we know for sure about grandparents? Not much, but we can start with these ten facts.

1. The average American will be a grandparent for half of his or her adult life.

The average age of becoming a grandparent is 48, according to AARP's 2002 Grandparent Study. If 18 is considered to be the beginning of adulthood, the average person will live 30 years as an adult before becoming a grandparent. Since the average life span of an American is 78 years, the average person is also likely to be a grandparent for 30 years.

2. Most grandparents don't see spoiling the grandchildren as their special role.

In the AARP survey, 37% said that spoiling is part of the grandparenting role, but almost as many -- 30% -- said that no one should spoil children. The remaining respondents said either that parents should spoil the children, or that both grandparents and parents should.

3. One tenth of American children live with a grandparent.

This U.S. Census Bureau figure includes both grandchildren being raised by grandparents and multi-generational households (those with grandparents, parents and children). Most of these households include at least two grandchildren, and many include more.

4. A grandparent does not have an inherent right to contact with a grandchild.

It's true that all states have laws addressing grandparent visitation rights, but the statutes are quite limited in scope. If your grandchild lives in an intact family, the parents have the right to decide who can have contact with their child, per the Supreme Court case of Troxel v. Granville.

5. Grandparents aren't sitting by the phone.

As much as they want to hear from their grandchildren, most grandparents are far too busy and active to sit around waiting for a phone call. In fact, the best way to reach them may be on their cell. Besides having myriad interests, many grandparents also have jobs. Three quarters of those between 45 and 64 are in the job force, according to the MetLife Report on American Grandparents.

6. Today's grandparents spend more on their grandchildren than did their counterparts in the past.

Many grandparents report never receiving gifts from their own grandparents, despite having had loving relationships with them. But modern grandparents do spend, and spend generously, on their grandchildren. From 1999 to 2009, spending by the 55+ demographic on items for children increased 71%, according to the MetLife study. At the same time, spending by older Americans on school supplies and tuition tripled.

7. Grandmothers outnumber grandfathers, but that could change.

Because women live longer than men, grandmothers outnumber grandfathers about 124 to 100, according to Census Bureau figures quoted in the MetLife study. That is expected to drop significantly by 2020, however, and the numbers could continue to even out.

8. Grandchildren often see their grandparents as having closed minds.

Grandparents are seen as less tolerant of different races, cultures and beliefs than younger generations, according to a Pew Research Center report. Perhaps that is because the grandparent demographic is less diverse than younger segments of the population. According to the MetLife report, grandparents who are African-American, Hispanic or Asian make up about one-fifth of all grandparents. The percentage for young adults is about two-fifths.

9. About 15% of grandparents care for grandchildren while the parents work.

This figure, from the AARP report, includes grandparents who are eager to provide child care and those who help out mainly because of the expense of conventional day care. Some grandparents are the sole child care providers; in other cases, they are part of a network of child care options.

10. Modern grandparents are, well, modern.

According to Grandparents.com, 75% of grandparents are online, and that percentage is continually rising. However, only 10% of grandparents sport a tattoo. No word on whether that figure is going up or going down.

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