Sir Mick Jagger and the great-grandparent club: why more of us will know our children's children's children

Sir Mick Jagger is about to become a member of a growing new club – great-grandparenthood. Samuel Muston finds out why more of us will know our children’s children’s children

In roughly five months' time Mick Jagger will join one of the most exclusive clubs in Britain. He will become, for the first time, at the age of 70, a great-grandfather. In an interview at the weekend, Jade Jagger announced that her elder daughter, Assisi, 21, will make her a grandmother at the age of 42.

Sir Mick, who is 70, is said to have responded to the news with the words, "Well done", as if she had just pulled off a particularly difficult forehand lob.

Assisi explained: "I imagine it's nice to be a great-granddad – although I'm not sure he likes the idea of getting old, or being called one."

Perhaps he doesn't much like the idea of becoming a great-grandfather, but at least Jagger can take solace in the fact that he's keeping good company.

After all, both the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh are in the G-G club, being great-grandparents to Prince George and Savannah Phillips. As is Julie Andrews, star of The Sound of Music, and Leonard Nimoy, star of Star Trek. While that other screen legend, Sidney Poitier, wrote the book on great-grandparenting, literally: it's called Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter, and is published by Pocket Books.

It isn't just pampered royalty – real or Hollywood – who are living long enough to meet their great-grandchildren. In recent years, a demographic change has begun to affect the make-up of our families: these days, family trees are long (with more generations) but thin (with fewer children in each).

As Sam Smethers, chief executive of the charity Grandparents Plus, points out, grandparents are often no longer the oldest in their families. "Sixty-two per cent of grandparents have at least one older relative still alive [although not necessarily a parent]," she says.

It is a trend being seen across the Western world. Professor Anna Rotkirch, a sociologist specialising in comparative research on European families, suggests that "a very tentative guess would be that around 10 per cent of young children in Western societies have one great-grandparent". The reason is simple: increased longevity.

As healthcare and diet have improved over the past half-century, so the number of very old people has grown. Now, more than ever before, people are living long enough to see their children's children's children.

That said, there is a counteracting population trend: people are giving birth when they are older. Still, though, that has been a modest development in comparison.

"There are more great-grandparents alive today than ever before," says David Coleman, professor of demography at Oxford University. "The increase in life expectancy, and past population growth, will have substantially counteracted the opposite effect from later childbearing," he says.

The notion of a great-grandparent is such a recent anthropological innovation that as a role it is often ill-defined. Research by Professor Rachel Caspari, of Central Michigan University, suggests that grandparents played a key role in the evolution of mankind when the "granddaddy" generation began to appear 30,000 years ago, as they took on some foraging and childcare duties, relieving some pressure on the generation below them – a situation familiar to many of Britain's current pensioners. There exist no such theories on the role of the great-grandparent.

As Professor Rotkirch points out, the relationship between great-grandparent and grandchild is "a genetically distant one". Indeed in 2007, 57 per cent of people surveyed said they couldn't name any of their great-grandparents. At least Mick Jagger can take succour from the fact that it is unlikely that Assisi's child will forget his name any time soon.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Caretaker / Storeman

    £15500 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has become available...

    Recruitment Genius: Head of Sales - SaaS B2B

    £60000 - £120000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This conference call startup i...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital and print design a...

    Day In a Page

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

    RuPaul interview

    The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
    Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

    Secrets of comedy couples

    What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
    Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

    Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

    While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
    The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

    The best swimwear for men

    From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
    Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

    Mark Hix goes summer foraging

     A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
    Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

    With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

    Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
    Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

    Aaron Ramsey interview

    Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
    Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

    Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

    As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
    The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

    Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

    Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms