“Hello, Grandma?” How Grandparent-Grandchild Contact Shifted during the Pandemic

In recent years, increased longevity along with early childbearing and closer spacing between children has amplified the possibility of greater contact and exchange of care and affection between generations. In other words, people are becoming grandparents at a younger age than previous generations and are spending more decades of their life in this role. Similarly, children can expect to remain in the grandchild role for longer periods of time. It is hardly surprising, then, that the grandparent-grandchild bond and its implications for family caregiving has captured the attention of researchers over the past several decades. One recent study examined the frequency and nature of grandparent-grandchild contact during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An online survey about contact with grandparents before and during the pandemic was administered to 165 undergraduate students with at least one living grandparent. The authors predicted that grandchildren would report more frequent contact with their grandparents given the media discourse around high COVID-19 risks for older adults. Along with key demographic variables including age, gender, race, and ethnicity, participants reported which of their grandparents were currently living (e.g., maternal grandmother or paternal grandfather), the average age of their grandparents, and their grandparent’s country of residence. The authors also measured associational solidarity, or the frequency of contact between the two generations before and since the beginning of the pandemic. Affectual solidarity, or the degree of emotional closeness between generations, was measured by single items of relationship satisfaction.

The authors found that the frequency of contact between the two generations increased marginally (only one additional time per month) during the pandemic. Concern about COVID-19 risks was cited as the main explanation for the increased contact. Most communication was synchronous (e.g., telephone and video chatting). Not surprisingly, grandchildren who felt emotionally closer to their grandparents and reported better relationship quality communicated more often.

The findings from this study are limited to a small non-representative sample of 165 young adults; nonetheless, they underscore the importance of meaningful intergenerational relationships and their potential to offset social isolation and loneliness in older adults during the pandemic.


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SOURCE: McDarby, M., Ju, C. H., & Carpenter, B. D. (2020). Frequency of Contact and Explanations for Increased Contact between Grandchildren and Their Grandparents during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Journal of Intergenerational Relationships, 1-16.

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