Survey Says: Call Your Grandma

Study Shows Older Adults Want More Communication With Kids and Grandkids and Are Learning New Technology to Do So

Published April 6, 2020

 

You should call your parents and grandparents.

That’s the consensus from a new survey of 479 Americans age 55 and up, which was conducted to find out how older adults feel about the level of communication they receive from their grown children and grandchildren. 

Some new technologies and the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak are actually spurring an increase in family communication, but adults age 55 and up still largely wish that their kids and grandkids would call, text or video chat more often.

Key Findings

  • Nearly 6 in 10 grandparents wish they heard from their grandchildren more often.

  • Most grandparents (65%) prefer to see their grandkids in person. When that’s not an option, the most preferred form of staying in touch is by video chat (21%).

  • Around 1 in 4 seniors (24%) wish they had richer and deeper conversations with their adult children.

  • None of the survey respondents say they prefer using social media to communicate with their grandchildren. In fact, roughly 3 in 10 grandparents say they specifically dislike using social media as a means of communicating with their grandchildren.

  • More than 4 in 10 seniors wish they heard from their adult children more often.

  • More than 4 in 10 also say they’ve heard from their adult children or grandkids more often since the COVID-19 outbreak.

  • 18% of seniors report using Facetime for the very first time to communicate with their kids or grandkids since the COVID-19 outbreak. 13% say they’ve texted with their kids and grandkids for the first time since the outbreak.

Most older adults want to hear from their family more often

Nearly 6 in 10 adults over 55 report wishing they would hear from their grandchildren more often, and more than 4 in 10 said the same about their adult children.

Grandchildren communication frequency pie chart

Previous generations often saw grandchildren grow up in close proximity to their grandparents. But one study showed that by 2018, over half of U.S. grandparents have at least one grandchild who lives more than 200 miles away from them, and roughly a third of grandparents live more than 50 miles away from their closest grandchild.1

This spaced out family dynamic makes the telephone and other modern technologies all the more vital as a lifeline between kin.

And when it comes to parents and their adult children, that lifeline is busy:

  • 57% of people with adult children communicate with them via phone, text or in person on a daily basis, including 41% who report communicating with them multiple times per day.

  • Only 20% of grandparents, however, report communicating with their grandchildren daily.

When grandchildren are in the mix, adult children in the middle are often squeezed out of the conversation.

  • Of our survey respondents who do not have grandchildren, half say they talk to their adult children multiple times per day.

  • Only 32% who do have grandchildren communicate with their adult children more than once per day.

Only 2% of grandparents say they communicate with their grandchildren more than they would prefer, which is the same number who report hearing from their adult children more than they prefer.

In terms of the quality of communication, roughly 1 in 4 older adults say they wish their conversations with their adult children were deeper and richer.

2% of older adults report their adult children share too much information.

Just over 1 in 4 grandparents say they wish for richer and deeper conversations with their grandkids, with 2% reporting that their grandchildren overshare in conversation.

Grandparents are learning new communication technology

Communication technology has advanced rapidly. Gone are the days of hand-written letters. Even traditional phone calls are the most frequently used form of communication for only 15% of grandparents and their grandchildren

Nearly half of grandparents say face-to-face conversation is their most frequently used method of communicating with their grandchildren. But for those who don’t enjoy the luxury of frequent in-person contact with their grandkids, video chat is their most frequent form of communication.​​​

  • In fact, a quarter of grandparents surveyed report video chatting with their grandkids more frequently than calling, texting or any other form of communication.

  • Only 15% of grandparents say phone conversations are their most frequently used method of chatting with their grandkids. And text messaging is the technology used most often for just 9% of grandparents.

  • Email and social media each account for just 2% of the most frequently used forms of communication between grandparents and grandkids. In fact, none of the older adults in our survey cite social media as their preferred form of communication with their grandchildren.

  • Only 1% of grandparents say they prefer using email to keep in touch with their grandkids, and just 3% report text messaging as their favorite form of keeping in touch.

Over a third of older adults say they text with their adult children more than they use any other form of communication. However, only 8% of older adults cited text messaging as their preferred form of communication with their adult children.  

Rounding out the most frequent forms of communication between adult children and their parents was phone calls (27%), in-person visits (16%), social media (9%), video chats (6%) and email (4%).  

One interesting subtlety emerged when asked about their preferred form of communicating with their adult children: 26% of older adults most prefer to speak to their children by phone, but only 13% prefer using video chat

Among their least favorite forms of communication, 34% say they most dislike using social media as a form of communication with their kids, and 31% report the same dislike of using email.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is changing how families stay in touch with their older family members

The isolation and social distancing measures people across the U.S. are taking during the COVID-19 outbreak are impacting every aspect of daily life.

But one positive that has come out of it is that nearly half of grandparents report communicating with their adult children or grandchildren more often than before the outbreak

New communication methods graphic

And not only are they communicating more often, but they’re using new technologies to do it.

  • 64% of older adults reported using a new technology during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to communicate with grandchildren or adult children.

We asked seniors what form of technology they’ve started using for the first time during the coronavirus outbreak. The percentage of older adults who reported using some popular forms of communication technology for the first time are listed by popularity below:

  1. Facetime (18%)
  2. Text messaging (13%)
  3. Internet phone calls (VOIP) (9%)
  4. Skype (6%)
  5. Facebook Live (5%)
  6. Email (3%)
  7. Zoom (3%)
  8. Houseparty (2%)

Conclusions

Many of America’s older adults live far away from their adult children and grandchildren, and many wish they communicated more often with their younger family members.

Grandparents are adopting new technology as a means to communicate with their adult children and grandchildren, due to improvements in communication technology, and also due recently to the social distancing measures in place as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Methodology

This study was conducted March 27, 2020, using an audience pool gathered using Prolific, a polling tool. The total survey side included 479 respondents.

Participants were filtered based on completion time and failure to follow written instructions within the survey.

Margin of error: +/- 4% (95% confidence interval)

This survey relies on self-reported data.

Fair Use Statement

Of course we would love for you to share our work with others. We just ask that if you do, please grant us the proper citation with a link to this study so that we may be given credit for our efforts.

References

1 David, P., Nelson-Kakulla, B. (April, 2019). 2018 Grandparents Today National Survey: General Population Report. AARP Research. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00289.001.

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