Forget everything you thought you knew about grandparents. According to a new report by Inspired Villages and The Future Laboratory, in the society of the future, age isn’t just a number – it’s flat – with a mindset shift among older consumers creating a new future for grandparenting centred around possibility, purpose and progress.
As the global population lives longer and longer, the traditional goals and stages that used to structure consumers’ lives have become increasingly irrelevant. With the number of people aged 65 and over projected to double to more than 1.5 billion by 2050, this demographic is ripping up the rulebook, growing in influence and adopting new approaches to later life - shifts set to transform the future of grandparenting.
Welcome to the Flat Age Society, where grandparents aren’t defined by their age, but by their interests, passions and ambitions instead. While a subject laden with cliché – think “you’re as young as you feel” and “young at heart” – the aspirations these phrases point to are rapidly becoming a reality as people pioneer new approaches to later life.
This isn’t about grandparents going skydiving, however. It’s about a mindset shift that sees the years after 65 as ones of grandparenting possibility, where re-engagement, exploration and expertise can be re-interpreted and re-applied.
This shift was first driven by the baby boomers – born between the mid-1940s and the mid-1950s – who turned their backs on the term ‘elderly’ and began to re-invent retirement on their own terms. Unlike their own grandparents, who came of age amid world wars and a global economic crisis, baby boomers grew up during an economic boom and fuelled a decade – the Sixties – defined by counterculture and revolution, taking this positivity, optimism and ‘anything is possible’ attitude into later life.
But now, later boomers – known widely as Generation Jones (born between 1954 and 1965) – are becoming grandparents too. Jonesers, who came of age in the less optimistic 1970’s, hold a deep responsibility for the greater good and for brands that can demonstrate strong civic, social and philanthropic values, having navigated the 2008 financial crisis and now helping their Millennial and Gen Z children make sense of a world in flux.
In doing so, they are imbuing grandparenting with a newfound sense of purpose – a call to which baby boomers are also keen to support as they survey a tumultuous global landscape – with retirement evolving into a period where enjoyment and fulfilment are achieved through personal and societal progress.
To get there, grandparents are harnessing the tools of modern society and their unique relationships with their grandchildren, becoming ‘grandpeers’ in the process – grandparents who care about the same issues as their grandchildren, are present on the same platforms, and are seeking to collaborate to create a better world.
Here, we explore four ways this shift is manifesting and transforming the future of grandparenting:
For most consumers, generational conflict is part and parcel of growing up, with inter-generational consensus on major issues hard to come by. But while todays over 65’s might have challenged the views of their own grandparents, generational unanimity is slowly emerging across key issues.
The environment is one case in point, with the increasing visibility of the climate crisis uniting different demographics, rather than dividing them as it has done in the past. ‘Concern seems to be shifting up the age range over time,’ says Bobby Duffy, author of Generations. ‘For the past few years, it’s tended to be Gen Z and Millennials who’ve picked climate change out as one of the most important issues facing Britain in Ipsos MORI’s Issue Index. But in the latest study, Baby Boomers are almost twice as likely to pick out climate than Gen Z.’
Following this line forward, the near future could see activism and ethical action proactively driven by grandparents, who may even be inclined to join their grandkids on protests or at the picket line.
For now, however, they are making a stand with their wallets. While it’s often said that Millennials and Gen Z are the world’s purpose-driven consumers, supporting brands that match their values, baby boomers are in fact the most likely demographic to have boycotted a company in the last 12 months in the UK – almost twice as likely as Gen Z.
It’s a statistic given more weight considering that over 65’s global spending power will reach $14 trillion in 2030, up from $8.4 trillion in 2020, according to World Data Lab. This influence could welcome an era of ‘brandparents’, where grandparents make or break brands based on their ethical credentials, boycotting those who aren’t creating the social and environmental change that they – and their grandchildren – are coming to demand.
Think grandparents are technological laggards? Think again. The rate of digital adoption among older consumers is surging, with the constraints of lockdowns during the pandemic driving uptake of myriad platforms and services among this demographic.
Consumers aged 65-75 have become fervent adopters of tech over the past year, according to research from Deloitte. Two in three (66%) consumers aged 65-75 now have access to a smart TV, up from 51% in 2020, while laptop access among this age group has risen from 68% to 75% - a development that’s set to transform grandparenting for good.
Over the next five years, for instance, newfound connectivity could see grandparent-grandchild relationships take to the Metaverse – a digital space where people are gathering and interacting with millions of 3D virtual experiences at once. Owing to the pandemic, gaming has become a popular pastime for Baby Boomers. The State of Mobile 2021 report shows that two thirds of this group now play video game apps on their mobiles, while gaming brands like Xbox are offering consoles to retirement communities across the UK in a bid to boost connections between old people and their family members.
This shift is driving forward a future where video games, as well as video calls, power and progress familial relationships. Toward the end of the decade, advances in extended reality (XR) – as in advanced augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) – will see gaming become increasingly immersive, enabling grandparents to have digital experiences with their grandchildren that could prove difficult physically, whether playing sport or exploring new worlds.
The Flat Age isn’t just transforming how grandparents communicate with their grandchildren, but also what they talk about when they do. Research from Deloitte also reveals that access to a video streaming service subscription such as Netflix or Amazon Prime among UK consumers over 65 surged, rising from 36% in 2020 to 57% in 2021 – growth so great that it’s redefining the category and giving grandparents new culture cache.
‘Streaming subscription growth is slowing among every age group other than those aged over 65, says Helen Rees, Director of Media at Deloitte. ‘This should be a clear focus for streaming platforms in the year ahead as they look to set themselves apart in a crowded market.’
Driving our collective culture will no doubt enhance communication and understanding between grandparents and their grandchildren as they increasingly consume the same content, strengthening relationships, helping grandparents pass on life lessons and transforming how grandchildren perceive their older relatives.
Beyond their digital capabilities, the human-centric, interpersonal skills of grandparents learned over their lifetimes will soon become decisive resources and critical tools in helping the workforce – and their grandchildren – upskill in the face of automation.
According to McKinsey, demand for higher cognitive skills such as creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and decision making will increase by 14% in Europe by 2030. With research showing that emotional intelligence – an integral foundation to these skills – increases with age, the next decade will see traditional support structures flipped as future grandparents provide a lifeline to their grandchildren, who are predicted to have an average of 17 different employers and five separate careers in their lifetime.
This future is fast emerging, with workers already looking to colleagues and managers for learning in response – 41% of the workforce see mentoring as very important, according to the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. With an ageing global population in mind, it makes sense for grandparents – fresh from ‘5G’ workplaces home to five generations, but crucially born before the digital revolution – to use their experience to help upskill or reskill those in need.
Recent research from Birmingham University adds further weight to this future, finding that older adults are more willing to make an effort to help others than younger adults – paving the way for grandparents to lead an new era of multi-generational mentorship. ‘A lot of research has focused on the negative changes that happen as people get older,’ says lead author Patricia Lockwood. ‘We show that there are positive benefits to getting older too, in particular older adults seem to be more willing to put in effort to help others. These ‘prosocial behaviours’ are really important for social cohesion.’
A scheme trialled by children’s charity Barnado’s is hinting at what this future might look like. It’s recruited retired grandparents for their skills with toddlers and babies to work in “family hubs” alongside pre-school teachers, student social workers, foster carers and trainee midwives, providing advice and support on raising children and managing potential family crises.
As multi-generational mentorship becomes increasingly relied upon, the next decade could see such concepts enshrined as bona fide educational centres, with “Silver Skills Schools” home to grandparents helping their grandchildren and their peers develop the higher cognitive skills that will prove integral in a rapidly evolving working landscape.
Flat Age Fitness
To ensure they can power a decade of mentorship and social progress, grandparents are beginning to approach wellbeing and fitness with a new enthusiasm – a shift that’s being experienced society-wide.
‘People used to have a very narrow vision of wellness. It was an extra, occasional activity to feel healthier,’ says Katherine Johnston, senior research fellow at the Global Wellness Institute, which has revealed that the global wellness market is now worth $3.4 trillion. ‘Now, people think of it holistically and incorporate it into their daily lives.’
As the age profile of the UK shifts, this mindset is increasingly visible among over 65’s, with recent research from University College London revealing that in the UK, over 65’s were the only age group to become more active during the coronavirus pandemic.
In response, exercise brands are helping senior citizens keep fit and healthy with a new range of innovative tools and accessible digital platforms. For example, personal trainer Joe Wicks used his fitness platform, The Body Coach, to provide adaptive workouts for seniors having to remain in isolation. Available in 10-minute YouTube videos, the workouts are both easy to follow and adaptable for a range of body types – paving the way toward a future where grandparents and grandchildren can enhance their wellbeing together through the same, but adapted workouts.
Age Bold, on the other hand, is a fitness start-up that offers online, science-backed and easy-to-follow workouts for seniors. This includes activities such as strength training, tai chi and yoga – all created with techniques that recognise the abilities of senior citizens. Looking ahead, senior exercisers will be on the hunt for workouts that suit their life stage and cater for the various biological changes that come with getting older – but also crucially that their grandchildren can partake in too.
In this world – where grandparents are revving up rather than slowing down – the term ‘old’ is dead and gone. In its place, a new era is emerging, as grandparents evolve into grandpeers, sharing their knowledge across generations, harnessing the power of technology, driving social change and embracing wellness, as they attempt to create a better, more equitable future for all.
Want to find out more?
We run events at our Inspired Villages all year around. Join our mailing list to get all of the updates on our future events.