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The Generation Connection: Teens and the Elderly

The Generation Connection: Teens and the Elderly

by Joseph Carroll

A February 2001 Gallup Youth Survey* reveals that spending time with older people is an important part of many teens' lives. Most American teen-agers often visit elderly relatives and a substantial minority also visits friends and neighbors over the age of 70 on a regular basis. Roughly eight in 10 American teens say they see their own grandparents or the grandparents of close friends at least five or six times per year, while 57% say they visit their great aunts, great uncles, older cousins or other older relatives that frequently.

This is a promising finding, given that people around the world are now living much longer than ever before. According to the report from the United Nations' Second World Assembly on Ageing that took place April 8-12 in Madrid, Spain, life expectancy is rising -- so much so that there will be more older people than younger people living in the world in the next several decades. The United Nations estimates that one in 10 people worldwide are currently age 60 or older; this ratio is expected to rise to one in five by 2050 and one in three by 2150. That demographics shift suggests that caring for aging parents, grandparents and other relatives will become a more significant responsibility for many of today's teen-agers than it has been for previous generations.

Even though teens are more likely to see their own older relatives regularly, a considerable percentage also has contact with older people outside the family. In fact, 43% say they frequently visit friends of their parents or grandparents who are over 70, and 38% say they visit elderly neighbors on a regular basis. A strong majority of teens who have steady contact with the elderly -- with family members, neighbors, or friends -- visit them at least once a month.

The February 2001 poll also asked teens if they considered an older person to be a close friend. Results show distinct differences between younger teens (aged 13 to 15) and older teens (aged 16 to 17). Younger teens are more likely than are older teens to say they have a close friend who is an elderly person, by a margin of 77% to 69%.

*Findings for teens are based on telephone interviews with a representative national cross section of 501 American teen-agers, aged 13 to 17, conducted December 2000 through February 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±5%.

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