Just a generation ago, old people were depicted as grumpy, sometimes doddering and almost always as if their advancing age was something to ignore or avoid.
Not today. Of 64 childrens books randomly selected from the Books in Print Index and published since 1985, only three presented grandparents negatively, said Robert Beland, a professor in UFs department of recreation, parks and tourism. In all the books, at least one grandparent was actively involved with grandchildren, he said.
Not only did the books depict the grandparent in a positive manner, but in some of them the character was the hero or heroine of the story, said Beland, who did the study with UF sociologist Terry Mills, a researcher with UFs Institute on Aging. They solved family problems, they fixed things and they inspired the family, especially grandchildren.
Grandparents in the stories were active, involved in camping, fishing and even motorcycling, Beland said. Those still in the workforce represented an interesting array of occupations that included tugboat captain and jukebox repairman, he said.
Mills, Belands co-researcher, believes grandparents are getting more attention because medical advances have meant more people live to be grandparents. In 1900, the average life expectancy was about 49 years; today, the largest growing segment of the older adult population is people 85 and older, he said.
As people live longer, the prospect of shared intergenerational relationships over longer periods of time is greater than any other time in history, Mills said. Today you can be a grandparent for 50 or 60 years, particularly if you consider teen pregnancies.
The results of the UF study, published in the July issue of Journal of Family Issues, contrast
Contact: Robert Beland, Terry Mills
University of Florida