Baby boomers kill off the blue rinse stereotype

Wednesday 10 August 2005

Baby boomers kill off the blue rinse stereotype

  • Five very different types of grandparents exist within the UK today
  • The average person in the UK spends 35 years as a grandparent, longer than any other stage of their life
  • The average age of the first time grandparent is just 49 years

New research revealed today explodes the myth of the grey haired, reserved grandparent. Compiled for Saga by the Future Foundation, the study has identified five very different types of grandparents** among the 13.3 million grandparents in the UK, each showing very distinct behaviour. The survey has also found that the most dynamic group, the "Adventure Seekers", are set to show the biggest increase in years to come. Today they account for 2.5million grandparents in the UK, however this figures is set to rise to 4 million by 2020.

The five 'types' of grandparents and their role in family life are as follows;

Racy Role Models - younger grandparents, mostly male, who are still employed and active. They enjoy spending time with their grandchildren just for fun and get involved in most activities. They enjoy a varied and active social life enjoying the occasional tipple, flirting and dancing. (5 million, 37.1% of grandparents in the UK)

Hearts of Gold - kindly, friendly grandparents who really stand out in terms of the amount of time they devote to their grandchildren. Hearts of gold are also very sociable with their immediate friends and family but have a tendency not to seek out new friends and experiences. ( million, 6.3% of grandparents in the UK)

Adventure Seekers - the more affluent grandparent, predominantly female, leading hectic and full lives. Focusing on travelling, new experiences and fun, they also make time for charitable causes and set time aside to spend with their grandchildren. The adventure seeker is very concerned with her appearance. (2.5 million, 19.5% of grandparents in the UK)

Traditionalists - likely to be older grandparents, mostly women who have a vastly reduced range of pastimes. They generally have more grandchildren but, because they are less active, are less able to participate in their care. (4 million, 31.2% of grandparents in the UK)

Quiet Reminiscers - smallest cluster, made up mainly of grandfathers. As the least active group, they don't choose to spend much, if any, time with their grandchildren. Less likely to socialise or have hobbies and pastimes than other groups. ( million, 6% of grandparents in the UK)

The study also revealed how the size of each cluster might change by 2020. While 'Quiet Reminiscers' and 'Traditionalists' will remain as important as they are today (6% and 31.2% respectively), there are some dramatic changes at the other end of the spectrum. 'Racy Role Models' and 'Hearts of Gold' will make up a slightly smaller proportion of all grandparents dropping from 37.1% to 33% and 6.3% to 5.7% respectively, mainly as a result of the decrease in the number of low income families in the population. The most dynamic group, the "Adventure Seekers", are set to increase in importance in the years to come rising from 19.5% to 23.3% by 2020.

Emma Soames, Editor, Saga Magazine commented: "I am fascinated by this story. Grandparents are in so many cases a vital pillar of family life . And given that the average age of a first time grandparent is 49 the blue rinse image of grandparents is massively out of kilter with the reality. And since we may be grandparents for some 35 years of our life it is a stage of life that is long overdue for evaluation."

The study has also revealed falling birth rates and increased longevity is having a major impact on the family structure of the UK population especially at the top of the family tree. More than one in five, or 13.3 million, people (22%) in the UK are currently grandparents. By 2020, this group is forecast to grow by nearly a quarter to 16.6 million, one in four people in the UK or one in three adults over the age of 16. Nearly two thirds of people aged 50 and over (60%) are grandparents.

The report has revealed a greater part of people's lives is now spent as a grandparent than at any other stage of their life. In fact, on average, people have at least one year where they both have a child living at home and are a grandparent.

In summary, people spend on average:

  • 35 years as a grandparent
  • 22 years as a parent with children living at home
  • a further 14 years (on average) as an adult with no children
  • and 15 years as a child

The most common age that people become grandparents is just 49 years. The research also reveals that the average grandparent has 4.07 grandchildren and nearly a third of the 13.3 million grandparents have five grandchildren.

For further press information please contact the Saga Press Office on: 01303 771529.


Notes to editors:

* The second study about the lives, attitudes and behaviour of people aged 50 and over.

**Five very different types of grandparents exist within the UK today.

Racy Role Models - 5 million in the UK

Particularly characteristic of younger grandparents who are working class and still employed, over half of all grandads fall into this group. They are an active group getting involved in most activities more often than other grandparents but they stand out in their proclivity for flirting and dancing and enjoying a drink. Whilst the majority of this group are male, females included show the same inclination.

Their active lifestyles are extended to their grandchildren. More than four out of five of this cluster have spent time with their grandchildren just for fun in the last month, and over 60% have done so in the last month because they were asked to.

Hearts of Gold - qtrs of a million in the UK

While this group is small, they look to be the most kindly, friendly of grandparents. Once again they are predominantly low income families and whilst they may not lead the most adventurous of lifestyles (none have been abroad on holiday within the last year and less than a quarter did something unplanned in the last month) they are very sociable. In the last year, over 70% made a new friend, more than a third took up a new hobby and nearly 40% worked for charity.

This community spirit is reflected in the contribution they make to the lives of their grandchildren. Hearts of Gold really stand out in terms of the amount of time they devote to their grandchildren. Three quarters spend time every week with grandchildren just for fun, and 70% have looked after grandchildren within the last month because they were asked to. This group are less likely to come from the south east and London, half of this cluster (compared to a third of the UK population as a whole) are drawn from Wales, East Anglia, Yorkshire and the North West.

Adventure Seekers - 2.5 million in the UK

This is the middle class version of the Hearts of Gold (again predominantly grandmothers) and as a result of their greater affluence, they lead more hectic and full lives. Whilst a substantial number have done good works in the last year, they balance this with travelling, new tastes and fun. More than four out of five have done charity work, over half have holidayed abroad somewhere different in the last year, and over 40% have tried new food and done something unplanned and spontaneous (45%) within the last week.

The adventure seeker is also concerned about her appearance - nearly 50% have significantly changed their image in the past year - more than any other type of grandparent. This group have clearly continued an active life into their retirement (only 10% worked within the last year), into which they are happy to fit their grandchildren. The variety of lifestyle is partly a result of their affluence: as well as being from higher social grades, these grandmothers tend to be from wealthier Southern England.

Like Hearts of Gold, these grandparents make time for their grandchildren, over two thirds (68%) having spent time with them in the last week just for fun.

Traditionalists - 4 million in the UK

In marked contrast to the previous three clusters, these grandparents seem unquestionably to have reduced their range of activities. 70% of this cluster are 65 or older and this is reflected by them being far more likely to be women, widowed and pensioners. Given their age they have more grandchildren than most grandparents but are less able to help out with their care. While about half have spent time with their grandchildren just for fun in the last week, a quarter (27%) spent time with them because they were asked to. Lower than average participation in the lives of their grandchildren is partly due to them doing less of everything in the last year. Only 12% took up a new hobby within the last year, less than 45% made a new friend and less than 20% did paid work, worked for a charity or danced.

Quiet reminiscers - qtrs of a million in the UK

The final cluster is relatively small and for the most part is made up of grandfathers over 65. None of the members of this cluster have chosen to spend time with grandchildren for fun within the past year, and just 22% have done so in that time because they were asked to. Having no time for grandchildren reflects their reluctance to do many activities. Only one in ten took up a new hobby within the last year; a third (less than any other cluster) made a new friend in the last year; about 40% did something spontaneous in this time. Only in having a drink (30% did so within the last year) does this cluster match the frequency of activity of grandparents as a whole. Comparison with the gregarious racy role models cluster (the other predominantly male cluster), however, highlights how staid lives in this cluster are.

Of all these groups, adventure seekers are set to show the biggest increase in importance by 2020. This is an important change since this group are the most dynamic of all the grandparent typologies and there will be nearly 4 million of them wanting to be active, spontaneous but still loving their family in 2020.

Research carried out for Saga Group by the Future Foundation on a sample of 1,500 people (with a specific over 50s sample).

Other sources used to produce the study include:

Changing Lives - the Future Foundation's bi-annual survey of people covering public and consumer attitudes, values and behaviour from 1980 to the present day.

The British Household Panel Survey - a joint venture with the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at Essex University and is a longitudinal study that provides information on many aspects of people's daily lives.

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