“In the decades since my youth, I’ve witnessed the explosion of fatherless families and an exponential increase in illiteracy and crime.”

Burgess Owens

Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,
and the glory of children is their parents.

Proverbs 17:6 NRSV


The increasingly important role that grandparents are playing in the lives of their children and grandchildren is now widely recognized. What is less clear is the role these family members play within the extended family. Grandparents frequently become replacement partners as well as parents. While grandparents as a replacement or surrogate parents have been identified, grandparents as replacement partners have not been well recognized. Yet their role is also of importance in sustaining the lone parent and contributing to the grandchild’s well-being. 

The number of individuals who will live for part of their lives as members of three and four-generation families is, thus, increasing, as is the proportion of grandparents among Western populations. However, while the number of living generations will increase, the absolute number of living relatives will decrease. Consequently, grandparenthood and its associated roles and relationships are becoming increasingly prominent in contemporary Western society. U.S. data suggest that three-quarters of adults will become grandparents, and one-third of grandparents will go on to experience great-grandparenthood and be part of four-generation families.

  Due to demographic trends in the 1970s, when people married earlier and had more closely spaced children, individuals are currently experiencing the transition to grandparenthood at younger ages. They are, therefore, likely to occupy the position for a longer proportion of their lives, with estimates suggesting that some current adults may be grandparents for over half their lifetimes.


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