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.
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.
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:
When grandchildren are in the mix, adult children in the middle are often squeezed out of the conversation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And not only are they communicating more often, but they’re using new technologies to do it.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our research reports analyze a number of issues important to seniors, from health perceptions, medical communication, health habits, and more.