The US, like many other societies around the world, is experiencing a dramatic demographic transformation. More than 10,000 people turn 65 every day. And they are living longer and healthier lives. At the same time, the younger population is growing rapidly, and the country is becoming more racially and culturally diverse. Millennials now outnumber baby boomers. As a result, there is now an opportunity for intergenerational cooperation and collaboration on a scale never before seen.
The growing number of older people is a rich bank of human capital that, if utilized, can be a great asset to younger people (see Chapter 1, Government Integrity and Civic Engagement—Programs to Promote Civic Engagement). Equally so, younger generations bring talents and skills that can benefit older generations. The fact is the generations depend on each other, highlighting the importance of improving the quality of life for all generations and valuing the contribution that all generations can make in society.
Older people also have a unique role to play as potential caregivers for their grandchildren. Many grandparents are key providers of care and can be a stabilizing force for children whose parents have divorced, become incapacitated, or died One area of civil justice of particular concern to older people is the legal authority they have as grandparents. The Census Bureau reports a 64 percent increase since 1991 in the number of children living with their grandparents. According to the 2010 census, 7.8 million children live in grandparent-headed households. Another 4.3 million children live with other relatives. According to the 2015 American Community Survey, approximately 2.6 million grandparents are financially responsible for meeting their grandchildren’s basic needs (see Chapter 6, Low-Income Assistance—Assistance for Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children).
Many such caregivers, whether grandparents or other relatives, have partial or total responsibility for children but none of the legal authority necessary to provide care such as the authority to enroll a child in school, obtain medical treatment, or petition for visitation rights.
Intergenerational Cooperation: Policy
Encouraging intergenerational cooperation
Honoring the role of grandparents
States should adopt legislation that:
- provides a range of alternatives by which grandparents and other relatives may obtain and exercise the legal authority to make decisions for the children in their care; and
- allows grandparents to petition courts for visitation with grandchildren in cases of divorce, separation of parents, parental incapacity, long-term incarceration, or the death of one or both parents, particularly where the two generations have formed deep bonds critical to the children’s well-being.