Exploring Human Potential

The Grandparent Economy: Is Generosity Enough?

Mike Magee

As the first of the 76 million US boomers reach the magic age 65 in January,2011, there has been a great deal of discussion around costs – not the least of it in health care services. But the reality is that this population has the potential to assist Society if their energy and resources are properly channelled. One area whether boomers are already demonstrating significant positive engagement is in grandparenting.

Let’s have a look at the numbers. A recent study “The Grandparent Economy”’ at,  says that the roughly 70 million grandparents in the US are spending approximately 52 billion of the more than 600 billion they spend annually on their grandchildren. The number of grandparents is on the steep incline. The numbers today are 20% higher then 10 years ago, and are projected to increase another 11% by 2015. (1, 2)

What are they buying for the grandkids? We’ll get to that in a moment. Before we do, let’s consider where they sit in the multi-generational family line. First of all, every one of these grandparents is part of at least a 3 generation family – including themselves, their children and their grandchildren. At least half of them are from four generation families, that is they have parents (great grandparents) who are still alive, with that percentage projected to reach 70% by 2030.(3,4) And there is growing room for great great grandparents as well. 54% of current grandparents are under the age of 65 with the average age today of becoming a grandparent being age 50.(2)

Grandparents today are a pretty generous crowd. They are responsible for 45% of the total cash contributions to non-profit organizations. They spend $76 billion a year purchasing clothes, $250 billion on automobiles, $200 billion on entertainment and dining out, and $78 billion in travel. They are equally generous with their own families. The average annual increase in spending has been 7.6% a year since 2000. Of the $52 billion given in 2009, 45% goes to direct purchases for their grandchildren that are not considered gifts like food, child care, schooling, housing or furniture; 44% to indirect purchases such as goods and services intended as gifts including toys, clothing and travel; and 10% in gifts of stocks, bonds and other investments.(1,2)

With the holidays around the corner, there will be many grandparents searching out the perfect toy. In fact, as a whole grandparents will spend roughly $1.5 billion on toys this year. But that pales next to the $6 billion they’ll spend to support grandkids education, $4 billion on clothing and another $4 billion on travel.(1,2)

Now the contributions above understate grandparents true contributions to their families – in knowledge, wisdom, friendship, encouragement, guidance, joyfulness, faith, laughter, and moral support. These things – as the modern advertisement says – are “priceless”. And I would like to suggest – undervalued by many of us. As we move toward a preventive health care system, one that champions wellness, wholeness, productivity and innovation, we need to carve out a well defined and challenging role for grandparents. We have already established their willingness to give. Now we need to assure that their gifts result in a maximum benefit for their families and for all of us.

For Health Commentary, I’m Mike Magee


1. The Grandparent Economy at

2. Grand Times. WSJ. October 25, 2010.

3. Rosenbloom S. Here Comes The Great-Grandparent. NYT. Nov. 2, 2006.

4. Adcx S. AARP Letters, Five-Layer Dip and Great-Grandparents.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons