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Fast Facts on Grandparenting &
Intergenerational Mentoring

  • Research shows children need 4 to 6 involved, caring adults in their lives to fully develop emotionally and socially.

  • The grandparent/grandchild relationship is second in emotional importance only to the parent/child relationship.

  • Some research shows that as many as 9 out of 10 adult grandchildren feel their grandparents influenced their values and behaviors. Grandparents transmit to their grandchildren the values and norms of social order. Without such intergenerational continuity, some theorists say the stage is set for conflict and disruptive change, not only within the family but also in the broader society.

  • Fewer than 50% of adolescents in 1900 had two or more grandparents alive. By 1976 that figure had grown to almost 90%.

  • Today, an American at birth is expected to live 76 years compared to 47 years in 1900 -- an additional 29 years. Most of today's grandchildren will have most or all of their grandparents survive at least during part of their childhood and adolescence, and many will have surviving grandparents well into their adult years. At age 30, 75% of people will have at least one surviving grandparent.

  • Since 1900, the percentage of Americans 65 years and older has more than tripled (4.1% in 1900 to 12.7% in 1999). In 1900 there were 3.1 million people 65 years and older; in 1999 that number had risen to 34.5 million.

  • Today, over 13% of the US population is 65 years or older. By the year 2030, 1 in every 5 Americans will be over 65, totaling 70 million. For the first time in history, there will be more people of grandparent age than children and youth. These older adults can have a tremendous impact on society by choosing to be active grandparents and mentor younger generations.

  • The older population itself is getting older. Researchers divide older adulthood into three general groups: "young-old" (65-74), "old-old" (75-84), and the "oldest-old" (85+). In 1999, the 65-74 age group (18.2 million) was eight times larger than in 1900, but the 75-84 group (12.1 million) was 16 times larger and the 85+ group (4.2 million) was 34 times larger.

  • In 1960, a 65-year-old had a 1 in 7 chance of living to be 90; a 65-year-old today has a 1 in 4 chance. Centenarians are actually the fastest-growing age group in the country. The number of centenarians in the US is expected to jump from fewer than 30,000 in 1990 -- 80% of them women -- to more than 800,000 by 2050.

  • About 1/3 of the adult US population are grandparents. More than 70% of middle-aged and older people will become grandparents. A considerable number of grandparents will live long enough to become great-grandparents -- and some will even become great-great-grandparents.

  • There are about 70 million grandparents in the US today, and each month 75,000 Americans 45-69 years old join the club. The number of grandparents is expected to grow to 80 million by 2010.

  • The average age of becoming a grandparent is 50 years for women and a couple of years older for men.

  • Today's grandparents may range in age from 30 to 110, and grandchildren range from newborns to retirees.

  • Most grandparents have multiple (5 to 6 on average) grandchildren.

  • Because of divorce and remarriage, many children have 6 to 8 adults in the "grandparent" role in their lives. Between 20% and 25% of grandparents will be stepgrandparents either through their own or through their adult children's divorces and remarriages.

  • The transition to parenthood is a stressful period, even for competent couples with uncomplicated pregnancies and healthy babies. In one study, 65% of mothers and 37% of fathers reported that the first month of their baby's life was more difficult than they expected. In another study, it was found that when daughters become mothers they often find themselves with a new need for their mothers. At the same time, grandparents face changes: they experience a mixture of pleasure, tension, anxiety, gratitude, and resentment, as well as positive and negative expectations of themselves and their adult children. Intergenerational support is essential to the healthy progress of all three generations -- children, parents, and grandparents.

  • Parents are a bridge between the two generations. They can set the tone for grandparent/grandchild relations over the entire life course by how they perform their early function as gatekeeper to grandparents and as regulator of appropriate grandparent role behavior. Grandchildren also model the behavior of their parents toward grandparents; they maintain the same close or distant relationship with grandparents that they experienced when they were living in the parental home. Even as adults, grandchildren tend to interact with grandparents in the context of wider family activities, often involving the parents. Greater closeness and contact between parents and grandparents equals more closeness and contact between grandchildren and grandparents.

  • In some cases, parents deny grandparents access to grandchildren. Grandparent rights have received increasing attention. Although no state grants an automatic right to visitation, the majority of states have enacted laws which promote grandparent visitation when it's found to be in a child's best interest.

  • Events in the parent generation -- divorce, drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, death -- can greatly affect the grandparent generation. Grandparents can find themselves as primary caregivers. Grandparents who are raising their grandchildren face a number of problems, ranging from stress-related illness and social isolation to financial difficulties. According to 1997 figures, there are 2.5 million grandparent-headed households in which 4 million children are growing up; one-third of these children (1.3 million) have no parent present in the home. 6% of all children in the US under age 18 are growing up in grandparent-headed households.

  • Intergenerational bonds need not be traditional or biological. Older adults and young people can often validate and help each other. Intergenerational mentoring can make a significant difference in a child's life. The involvement of a reliable, caring adult helps children develop life skills, and builds self-esteem and confidence. One recent study showed that when a child is mentored by an adult, they are: 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs; 27% less likely to begin using alcohol; 52% less likely to skip school.

  • Even before the age of 5 years, research shows children may have already internalized ideas that lead to ageism (age prejudice/stereotypes) and gerontophobia (fear of aging). Children need to learn about aging and have positive role models in their life. In one study, 62% of children said they learned about older people from their grandparents. Other research has shown that children who know an older person well, like a grandparent, tend to portray older people in more positive ways.

For more information, visit the Legacy Project