May 21, 2015

Family Support in Graying Societies

6. Keeping in Touch Across Generations

Families today have a variety of options for keeping in touch. New technologies, such as cellphones and the internet, make it possible for family members to be in almost constant communication with one another, regardless of their physical location. The telephone is used most often for communicating with family, but many family members today are also using email, text messages and social networking to keep in touch. The handwritten letter has fallen out of favor with today’s families.

Not surprisingly, parents and adult children communicate more frequently than do grandparents and grandchildren. Across all three countries, a vast majority of parents report that they are in touch with their adult children on a weekly basis or more. And similarly large majorities of adult children say they are in touch with their parents at least once a week.

How Parents Communicate with Their Adult Children

Italian Parents and Their Adult Children Often in Daily ContactIn general, Italians seem to be in closer communication with their family members than Americans and Germans. Among Italians who have an adult child who does not live with them, 70% say that they are in contact with that child (or children) in person, by phone, by email or in any other way at least once a day. An additional 24% say they are in touch at least once a week.

By comparison, among U.S. adults who have at least one grown child living outside of the family home, 46% say they are in contact with that child at least daily, and some 39% say they are in touch at least once a week.

Contact between parents and their adult children is a bit less frequent in Germany. About a third (32%) of German parents say they are in contact with a grown child at least once a day. Roughly half (48%) say they are in touch weekly and 18% communicate monthly or less often.

There is a significant gender gap on this measure in the U.S. and Germany but not in Italy. Among American adults with at least one adult child, mothers are much more likely than fathers to say that they are in contact with their adult children at least once a day (52% of mothers compared with 38% of fathers). Similarly, in Germany 39% of mothers say they are in touch with their grown children daily, compared with 24% of fathers. In Italy, roughly equal shares of mothers and fathers (70% and 71%, respectively) with adult children say they are touch at least once a day.

Telephone Dominates Communication Between Parents and Grown Children; U.S. Parents Rely More on Texts, Emails and Social Networks

In communicating with their grown children, adults in the U.S., Italy and Germany rely most heavily on the telephone. Among American adults who have a grown child with whom they are in touch at least once a month, 97% say they typically communicate over the phone. Text messaging is also quite prevalent among U.S. parents and their adult children. Some 61% of parents say they typically use this mode of communication with a grown child.

About four-in-ten U.S. parents with grown children (39%) say they use email to communicate, and 28% say they use social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Only 8% of U.S. parents say they typically communicate with an adult child through handwritten letters.

Italians Are in Touch with Their Parents More Frequently than Americans, GermansAmong Italian parents who are in contact with their grown children at least once a month, 94% say they typically use the phone to communicate. Some 27% use text messaging, and relatively few use email (8%), social networking sites (6%) or handwritten letters (1%).

The patterns are similar among German families. An overwhelming majority of German parents who are in contact with their adult children at least monthly say they typically communicate with them over the telephone (92%). Roughly four-in-ten (38%) use text messages, while 29% use email.

How Adults Communicate with Their Parents

In Italy, the U.S. and Germany strong majorities of adults report that they communicate with their parents at least weekly. Italians are much more likely than Americans or Germans to say they are in touch with their parents daily: 64% of Italians with at least one living parent say they are in contact at least once a day. By comparison, 38% of Americans and 29% of Germans say the same. Some 43% in the U.S. and 51% in Germany say they are in touch with their parents weekly. Similar shares of Americans and Germans (8% and 10%, respectively) say they are in touch less than monthly or never.

In the U.S., adults with aging parents are somewhat less likely to communicate with them on a daily basis than are those whose parents are under 65 years of age. Among Americans with a living parent age 65 or older, 35% say they are in touch at least once a day. Among those with younger parents, 42% are in contact daily.

Telephone Is the Primary Way Adults Keep in Touch with Parents, but Roughly Half of Americans Also Text

In Italy and Germany adults with aging parents are just as likely as those with younger parents to be in touch with them on a daily basis.

In the U.S., the telephone is the most popular mode of communication for adults who are reaching out to their parents, followed by text messaging, emailing and connecting on social networking sites. Fully 94% of U.S. adults with at least one living parent with whom they are in touch on a monthly basis say they typically communicate over the telephone. About half (49%) say they communicate by sending text messages, 27% say they use email to keep in touch and 21% say they use social networking sites. Relatively few U.S. adults (8%) say they typically communicate with their parents through handwritten letters.

The patterns are similar in Germany and Italy, with adults relying primarily on the telephone to keep in touch with their parents – 87% of Germans and 83% of Italians with at least one living parent say they typically communicate over the phone. Both Germans and Italians are less likely than Americans to rely on other technologies to keep in touch with their parents. Roughly a quarter of Germans (26%) say they communicate by text messaging, as do one-in-five Italians (compared with 49% of Americans).

Similarly, Germans and Italians are less likely than Americans to communicate with their parents over social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Some 9% of Germans and 6% of Italians say they keep in touch with their parents through social networking sites, compared with 21% of Americans.

How Grandparents and Grandchildren Keep in Touch

Italian Grandparents in Close Contact with GrandchildrenMost grandparents communicate with their grandchildren on a fairly regular basis. The contact is much more frequent in Italy than in the U.S. or Germany.

In Italy, 43% of grandparents (that is, adults with at least one grandchild of any age), say they communicate with their grandchild or grandchildren at least once a day. An additional 40% say they are in touch at least once a week. Some 7% say they are in touch at least monthly, and 8% say it’s less often than that or never.

In the U.S., one-in-five grandparents say they communicate with their grandchildren daily, and 41% say they are in touch weekly. Some 19% communicate with their grandchildren once a month and another 19% say they communicate less often or never. The shares are nearly identical in Germany, with a plurality (44%) of grandparents saying they communicate with their grandchildren at least once a week.

The ways in which grandparents communicate with their grandchildren are similar to the ways parents communicate with their grown children and children communicate with their parents, although grandparents tend to rely less on modern technologies. The telephone is the most common means of communication, followed by text messaging and email.

How Do Grandparents Keep in Touch with Their Grandchildren? Mainly over the Telephone

Again, Americans seem to be more likely than their European counterparts in Germany and Italy to rely on text messaging, emailing and using social networking sites. Among American grandparents who are in contact with their grandchildren at least once a month, 25% say they typically communicate by text message. By comparison, 14% of grandparents in Germany and 4% of those in Italy say they typically communicate with their grandchildren using text messages. Some 16% of U.S. grandparents who are in touch with their grandchildren at least monthly say they communicate with them via email, 13% say they keep in touch through social networking sites and 9% communicate through written letters.

Daily Contact More Limited for Adults and Their GrandparentsAdults with living grandparents report less frequent communication with their grandparents than grandparents do with their grandchildren. Again, Italians are the most likely to report regular contact: 22% of Italians who have at least one living grandparent say that they are in touch on a daily basis. An additional 39% say they are in contact at least once a week, and 23% report communicating with a grandparent at least once a month. Only 14% say they are in touch less often than that or never.

How American Adults Keep in Touch with Their GrandparentsIn the U.S., 6% of adults with at least one living grandparent say they are in contact on a daily basis, 22% are in contact weekly and 36% say they are in touch at least once a month. Some 35% of U.S. adults with a living grandparent say they communicate less often than monthly, including 2% who say they never communicate with their grandparents.

For Americans who are in touch with their grandparents at least once a month, talking on the telephone is the most common way of communicating. Americans are more likely than Italians or Germans to use cellphones and other modern technologies to communicate with their grandparents. Some 20% of American adults with at least one living grandparent say they typically communicate using text messages. An additional 16% say they connect with their grandparents through social networking sites, and 12% say they keep in touch using email.