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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

    £90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

    £100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

    Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee