Consumer Comeback Blog

Economy Prompts Grandparents to Step Up Financial Support, Combine Households

Unemployment and financial distress can send a ripple effect through families.

The economic downturn has given rise to the term “boomerang kids,” when adult children come home to live with their parents, but this trend is not limited to single adults. Families who might normally prefer to live on their own are increasingly combining households with older generations to save money.

At a time when senior citizens should be saving for retirement, an AARP survey reveals that grandparents are opening their doors and wallets to help support their families.

The average age of the grandparents surveyed was 69, but the average age of a first-time grandparent is 47. The majority of grandparents surveyed are retired, but 15% were still working full time. Still, nearly half of the grandparents were living on a household income of $50,000 or less. Grandparents participating in this survey had an average of seven grandchildren, 55% having five or more grandchildren; and nearly 25% having 10 or more grandchildren.

While spoiling grandkids has traditionally been considered a grandparent’s privilege, these days, financial support is going beyond splurging for holiday gifts, with 40% the grandparents surveyed reported spending more than $500 on their grandchildren over the last 12 months. When parents are struggling financially, grandparents are filling in the gaps, with 53% contributing to education costs, 37% paying everyday living expenses, and 23% helping with medical or dental bills.

More grandparents are making room for their children and grandchildren in their homes, with 11% having a grandchild living in their home. That number is higher among Hispanic (13%) and African American (19%) grandparents who are traditionally more likely to be influenced by cultural practices to have multigenerational households.

Even if households are not combined, grandparents are still stepping to the plate to provide child care. Nearly half of the grandparents surveyed were more than happy to help out watching the kids after school, during holidays, and when children are sick. Nearly one in six provide daily childcare while parents are working and commit to this arrangement for about six years.

Far from considering it a burden, the majority of grandparents surveyed said they feel fortunate to have a close relationship with their grandchildren. Among the popular activities that grandparents and grandchildren enjoy are watching TV and videos (75%), shopping (63%), outings such as movies and museums (55 %), playing video games (35%), cooking/baking (58%), attending religious services (47%), and 58% are physically active with grandchildren, getting involved in exercise, sports, gardening etc.

It’s not all fun and games. Grandparents are also providing valuable insights to their grandchildren about important issues including:

46% feel it’s extremely important to be connected to their cultural, racial and ethnic heritage

  • 78% have conversations with their grandchildren include meaningful topics such as morals and values
  • 66% percent talk about religion and spirituality
  • 37% talk about dating or sex with at least one of their grandchildren
  • 53% peer pressure and bullying
  • 61% discuss health/obesity