Just call them "The Nanas and the Papas." A generation of baby boomers is becoming grandparents — and they're still trying to change the world.
Grandparents in America are the youngest they have ever been, with the average first-time grandparent now just 47, according to the Washington, D.C.-based AARP. But grandma and grandpa don't necessarily fit the stereotype of years past. About a third of all grandparents are "baby boomers," and you are more likely to see them coasting along on Rollerblades than relaxing on rocking chairs.
The new crop of baby boomer grandparents is also doing more with, and for, their grandchildren, opening up their purses and wallets, and spending a collective total of $35 billion a year on their grandkids. On average, they spend $500 a year on grandchildren, up from $320 in 1992.
Debra Schmitt became a grandmother when she was just 42, and at age 48, she now has three grandchildren under the age of 7. She is also among the wave of boomer grandmas who are more likely than their predecessors to have their own careers and be college-educated. Schmitt works as a management consultant for Fortune 500 companies and runs seven marathons a year.
Paying Bills for Grandkids
Thanks to her job, Schmitt has been able to build up her bank account for her family's little ones.
"Now I can give my grandchildren things I couldn't even give my own children," she said. For instance, they are able to pay for the grandkids to go to private school, which she considers the most important thing that she could do for them.
She is not the only one. Fifty-two percent of grandparents help pay for their grandchildren's education, 45 percent help pay for living expenses, and 25 percent help pay medical and dental costs.
Ken Dychtwald, president and CEO of Age Wave and the author of Age Power: How the 21st Century Will Be Ruled by the New Old , said that these grandparents are a largely untapped market. Most advertising messages are directed toward outdated images of grandparents, who are often perceived as being frugal.
"Too many of us when we imagine grandparents, we think of 70- or 80-year-old gals baking cookies in the kitchen and telling stories of the olden days. That era is over. These grandparents last year spent about $35 billion on their grandchildren," Dychtwald said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.
A Packed Schedule at Grandma’s House
The newer grandparents are being confused with the previous generation of grandparents who grew up during the Depression and World War II. But today's grandparents are a generation of consumers. They are also full of energy, since they had their own children so young.
"I had my daughter when I was 18, and I bought my first house at 18," Schmitt said. "So I was used to the idea of having kids young, and I couldn't wait to have grandchildren."
When the grandkids visit their lakeside home, she and her husband take them for a run first thing in the morning. After that, they eat breakfast, go swimming in the lake, swing on the swing sets, and then take a nap. Later, they'll watch movies and have popcorn. If she was an older grandma, Schmitt doesn't think she would have the energy to be so involved in their lives.
"My daughter loves it — she's happy to have parents who can do so much with her kids," Schmitt said. Each year, between Christmas and New Year's they take care of the kids for 10 days. They also have taken them to Disney World. Because she and her husband are young looking anyway, they are often mistaken for the parents — a mistake that they enjoy.