Reflecting on Grandparents Today

Here in the US, we have Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Childrens Day and Grandparents Day to mention only a few of the days our Congress has seen fit to honor.  Our proclivities for naming days in honor of our relatives has not yet extended to “Second Cousin Twice Removed Day,” but just give us a little time.

Earlier in September, we had National Grandparents Day which has been with us on the first Sunday after Labor Day since 1978 when President Jimmy Carter signed the proclamation designating it.  Reportedly, September was nominated for this holiday to reflect the “autumn years” of life.  While that might have been an appropriate metaphor back in the 1970’s, today we tend to think of grandparenthood as occurring in the mid to late summer of life – more like late July or early August..  We are living active lives a lot longer now; witness the number of men and women 50 and over who turn out for the Rhody Run or any of the other open athletic events here on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula.

Out here on the Peninsula, we have a lot of active grandparents.  Jefferson County has the state’s oldest population, with a median age of 53.9 – the 10th-oldest median population in the U.S; Sequim is more than a tad older with a median age of 57.9.   Since the national average age at which we become grandparents is 48, it is easy to see our Peninsula is likely a community of grandparents – it’s a wonder we don’t hold a parade.

Things have been progressing in the grandparent department – or, as the saying goes, these are not your father’s grandparents.  Over 40% of grandparents today exercise or play sports and almost 30% are regular volunteers – we are staying active and engaged.  Twenty percent of us dance and 70 percent of us enjoy reading.  Sixty percent of grandparents have a full time or part time job and nearly 40% are enjoying sex twice a week, so we haven’t exactly folded up our tents and gone home.

So far as being hip is concerned, 10% of grandparents have tattoos and 7% have used recreational drugs.  That percentage may be likely to increase in Washington State with the recent liberalization of marijuana laws.

Grandparents – or at least older adults – are increasingly likely to be internet and cell phone users.  The Pew Research Center had seniors 65 and older going over the 50% mark for users in April of 2012; Statisticbrain.com puts the grandparental number at 75%.  A majority of grandparents also shop online and use internet technologies such as photo sharing sites and search engines.  We also still read a lot and particularly read a lot of news.

Grandparent types have been a bit behind in the use of social media, but we are catching up.  The Pew Research folks note that seniors (65 and over) have more than tripled their social media usage since 2009.  There has been a similar spike in usage among the 50-64 age cohort so while we may be lagging our grandchildren in the percentage of social media users, we are moving up fast!  The reasons older people give for engaging with social media is that they are interested in maintaining ties with family members.  Not surprising these days as more and more children move away from the area they grew up in to follow employment opportunities and more and more seniors seek desirable retirement areas.  The majorities of senior social media users are on Facebook and seem most interested in following the activities of their children and grandchildren and in connecting with old friends and people who share similar hobbies.

As a society, our grandparents are looking younger every day.  Here on the Peninisula, we are, as usual running ahead of pretty much everyone else.

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