Eleven percent of grandparents said they had a grandchild living with them. (Image: Thinkstock)

The number of grandparents in the U.S. has increased by 24% to 70 million since the turn of the century, and they spend an average of $2,562 a year — about $179 billion — on their grandchildren, AARP reported Tuesday.

“Today’s grandparents are an economic force that cannot be ignored,” AARP’s senior vice president of research Alison Bryant said in a statement. “They are living longer, working longer, shattering stereotypes and supporting their grandchildren in a variety of ways, including financially and culturally.”

AARP’s research showed that grandparents have four to five grandchildren, on average, down from six to seven in 2011. Forty percent of grandparents are in the workforce today, up from 24% in 2011.

And their numbers are growing. People become first-time grandparents on average at 50. By age 65, 96% of residents are grandparents, and in 2030, one in every five will be 65, the report said, citing U.S. Census data.

The research found that although grandparents enjoy many positive aspects of grandparenting, some also experience a downside. Thirteen percent of study participants said they struggled with the financial expectations of being a grandparent, including the cost of traveling to see their grandchildren.

Seven percent reported having taken on debt to help their grandchildren pay for college, and one in four of these said they had co-signed private student loans for their grandchildren and/or incurred credit card debt that had not yet been paid back in full.

Hotspex conducted an online survey in the third quarter via Research Now SSI Panel, which targets panelists ages 38 or older, and supplemented with offline intercepts among those ages 73 or older. Respondents had at least one grandchild, inclusive of step-grandchildren, adopted grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Other Research Findings

Nine in 10 grandparents in the study said they provided some kind of financial support to their grandchildren.

Thirty-four percent of respondents had grandchildren of mixed or different race or ethnicity. And nine in 10 said they would accept a gay or transgender grandchild.

Eighty-nine percent of respondents said the relationships with their young family members was good for their mental well-being. And 71% reported that their own health status was very good to excellent.

Distance is becoming an increasing factor in grandparent-grandchild relationships. One in three grandparents said they lived more than 50 miles away from their closest child, up from one in five in 2011.

Eleven percent of respondents reported that they had a grandchild living with them, about the same as in 2011. Five percent of those in multigenerational households said that they were primary caregivers of a grandchild living with them.