Anatomy of a modern grandparent

If I asked you to think about grandparents, chances are your mind would flit firstly to blue-rinse perms, pleated skirts and/or some form of boiled sweets. Beyond this, you’d probably have memories of fusty smelling houses filled to the brim with ornaments and being told ‘just how much you’ve grown’.

This in itself proves how out of touch we are with the modern grandparent. This struck me the other day, when I realised that my own rock concert-going, gym bunny, globetrotting parents are actually the perfect example of MODERN GRANDPARENTS.

I decided to delve into this further. Our 2014 Future of Families study highlighted that almost one in two grandparents are under 60, with many as young as 40! We know that only 7% of the over 45 group claim to do the same activities that their parents did at their age, so change is in the air (source: Future Foundation, 2014).


Grandparents are increasingly the decision makers for the wider family; planning holidays, buying groceries and household products and supporting their children well into their own parenthood.

“We have all been there, done that, experienced social changes and learnt from what life has thrown at us, and we still have life to live, and the right to say yes or no to anything asked of us. We help but are not obligated to take on roles we do not want to, but we are always there when really needed.” Grandmother, 58 years old

The role they play is now integral to the success of many parents’ busy schedules. In addition to the majority being a source of financial support to their children’s families (56% of grandparents) they also spend a significant amount of their time looking after the grandkids. 53% claim to look after them at all during the week, with two in five doing more than three hours of childcare for their own offspring. From our Future of Families study we estimated that if all UK households took advantage of this free childcare they’d save around £7.3billion a year!

Reassuringly, two thirds feel that it is a joy to look after their grandchildren:

“The thing I enjoy doing most with Ella when I look after her is reading her story books with her, one page each until we finish the book. My biggest challenge of being a grandparent is not giving in to all the requests made by Ella and undermining her Mam.” Grandmother, 41 years old

Something that struck me as quite sad is that, despite this, one in six feel taken advantage of. One in four receive nothing as a thank you or reward from their children for giving up their free time in this way. This would be less provocative if we knew that all grandparents were retired, but we know that 35% are still working at least part time – so their leisure time is still of great value to them and their partners.

“[The biggest misconception about grandparents is] that they have all the time in the world to be child minders and have no wish to do anything else with all the extra me time! Grandfather, 55 years old

So what are the media opportunities for this group?

One in four take their family to the cinema. With upcoming releases in decade-spanning franchises such as Star Wars and Ghostbusters, what opportunities are there for marketers to target this group to share their fond memories and nostalgia with the new generation?

Half of grandparents take the family on day trips to theme parks, the seaside and other attractions. 60% watch TV with their grandkids, and far from being complete cyber-novices; one in ten actually play video games with their family – so could be exposed to in-game advertising. As they get younger, fitter and more digitally savvy, mobile will play an increasingly key role in their organisation and communication – along with their shopping.

They are increasingly influential not only on their own children’s decision making, but also that of the younger generation who spend increasing amounts of time in their care. Engaging them in a real conversation which acknowledges their own specific trials, pressures and lifestyle, without patronising them, will have a trickle-down effect on their family tree.



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