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The Age Of The Grandparent Has Arrived

The age of the grandparent has arrived.

The ratio of grandparents to children is higher than ever before. That has big consequences

This month in The Economist, a story appeared that I thought would be of great interest to our readers.

“The most saccharine song of 1980 was “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma”, performed by the St Winifred’s School choir from Stockport, England. It shot to the top of the British charts as kids everywhere gave it to granny for Christmas. “Grandma, we love you,” they sang. “Grandma, we do. Though you may be far away, we think of you.”

“And it will help drive another unfinished social revolution—the movement of women into paid work.”

Today, as the once-cherubic choristers start to become grandmas and grandpas themselves, grandparenting has changed dramatically. Two big demographic trends are making nana and gramps more important. First, people are living longer. Global life expectancy has risen from 51 to 72 since 1960. Second, families are shrinking. Over the same period, the number of babies a woman can expect to have in her lifetime has fallen by half, from 5 to 2.4. That means the ratio of living grandparents to children is steadily rising.

Surprisingly little research has been done into this. The Economist could not find reliable figures for how many living grandparents there are, so we asked Diego Alburez-Gutiérrez of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany to produce some estimates by crunching age and population data with models of kinship structures in each country.

We found that there are 1.5bn grandparents in the world, up from 0.5bn in 1960 (though the further back one goes, the fuzzier the estimates become). As a share of the population they have risen from 17% to 20%. And the ratio of grandparents to children under 15 has vaulted from 0.46 in 1960 to 0.8 today.

By 2050 we project that there will be 2.1bn grandparents (making up 22% of humanity), and slightly more grandparents than under-15s. That will have profound consequences. The evidence suggests children do better with grandparental help—which usually, in practice, means from grandmothers. And it will help drive another unfinished social revolution—the movement of women into paid work.”

Read the full article in The Economist here.

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susan reynolds

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