The power of the grandparent economy

A leading economic researcher reports on your strength in numbers and resources

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You rule. At 70 million strong, your generation of grandparents is one of the largest, fastest-growing, and most powerful segments of the U.S. population. Yet there has been surprisingly little research into the size or the spending power of today’s grandparents — until now. commissioned Peter Francese, founder of American Demographics, to uncover the facts and to shatter some myths about grandparents. The result is The Grandparent Economy, a fascinating study that sheds new light on your economic clout — and your commitment to your families.

The facts

Grandparents are younger than ever before — and your ranks are growing. There were a record 4.3 million births in the United States in 2007, which helped the number of grandparents increase at more than double the rate of the general population. Three in ten American adults are grandparents today — an all-time high. As a segment of the population, grandparents outnumber African Americans or Hispanic Americans. And you’re not whiling away your hours in rocking chairs. Far from it: The average age of first-time grandmothers in the United States is 50; for first-time grandpas, the average age is 54. Overall, 54 percent of grandparents (a total of 38 million) are younger than 65. By 2010, half of all grandparents will be Baby Boomers. By 2015, 60 percent of grandparents will be Boomers.

A force to be reckoned with

Today’s grandparents are better educated and wealthier than any previous grandparents. As a group, you control more than half the financial assets in the United States. And even as the nation is locked in a recession, you haven’t stopped spending on your grandkids — or on yourselves. Francese expects that you will spend $2 trillion on goods and services in 2009 — fully one-third of the nation’s overall consumer spending. You’ll spend most of it on your own interests and needs, such as travel, entertainment, and cars, but Francese’s study shows that you’ll also concentrate tremendous spending on the children in your lives. He estimates that grandparents will spend $52 billion on their grandkids this year, the bulk of it on school tuition and other education costs ($32 billion), but also on gifts like clothes ($11 billion) and toys ($6 billion). And his research projects continued strong spending, in part because the employment rate among grandparents has increased 10 percent, even while that of all other age groups has seen steady declines during the recession.

What’s in YOUR wallet?

Plenty. Grandparents face many challenges — you lead 37 percent of the country’s households, about 44 million in all, and statistical trends show that number rising in the years ahead. Fortunately, you’re well-prepared for the responsibilities, not only because you’re experienced parents, but because households headed by 55- to 64-year-olds have the highest net worth of any age group’s. Not only do your households have higher average incomes than those of your younger counterparts (the majority of grandparents younger than 65 are still in the workforce), but 55 percent of you do not carry a mortgage, putting you in a relatively good position to weather the current economic downturn.

The bottom line? Your impact on the country’s economy and well-being is massive — and now that the research is in, your power can no longer be ignored or underestimated.