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The Value Of Intergenerational Friendships

July 27th, 2022

Do you have any cross-generational friendships? Intergenerational friendships typically have an age gap of a decade or more, meaning each individual brings a different perspective and different experiences to the relationship. 

The UK has an ageing population, and a growing problem with loneliness, but intergenerational friendships could help to combat this and keep older people connected. 

Statistics from Age UK published in 2019 show that almost 4.5 million over-65s in the UK have felt lonely in later life, with some 225,000 of older people regularly going at least a week without speaking to another person – and these figures are only likely to have increased since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

elderly man sat alone on bench

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, commented: “Loneliness is a huge problem because retirement, bereavement, and ill health mean many older people find they are spending a lot less time enjoying the company of others than they’d like.

“A friendly ‘hello’ or ‘how are you?’ is something most of us take for granted – it’s just part of everyday life, but these latest figures show that hundreds of thousands of older people in the UK will spend today and the rest of this week alone, with no one to share even a few simple words with.”

Saying ‘hello’ to people of other generations when you’re out and about is one way to get a little more interaction into both of your days, but you may want to take this further and seek out an intergenerational friendship. 

How Common Are Intergenerational Friendships?

Research published by the AARP (previously known as the American Association of Retired Persons) in early 2020 found that more than one-third (37%) of the 1,500 participants had a friend with an age gap of at least 15 years, whether this was older or younger. 

Of these intergenerational friendships, 45% had lasted for 10 or more years, while 20% had lasted for over 20 years, demonstrating the enduring nature of cross-generational relationships. 

young woman with her arm an around elderly man

The survey found that there were common topics discussed by friends of all ages, including family, hobbies, and shared past experiences. However, each generation tended to value their friendships for slightly different reasons, with baby boomers placing value on sharing activities and experiences, while Generation X (those currently in their 40s and 50s) relied on their friendships for problem solving. Meanwhile, millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) said their friendships were important for making them feel valued.

What Are The Benefits Of Multigenerational Friendships?

In later life, when your peers may live far away, be less mentally sharp, or have even passed away, cross-generational friendships can provide a real lifeline and a new lease of life. For younger people, becoming friends with someone older can be incredibly inspirational and enriching, meaning everyone can benefit from the relationship. 

Some of the benefits of multigenerational friendships include:

  • Helps to combat loneliness – having engagements in the diary to look forward to may help to boost your mood, while preventing feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • An opportunity to learn from each other – whether you’re learning what life was like before you were born or you’re getting acquainted with new technology for the first time, there’s so much we can learn from each other, regardless of our age
  • Receive brilliant advice – if you share a problem with an older person, it’s highly likely that they’ll have encountered the scenario before, which means they can provide excellent advice informed by lived experience
  • Sharing stories and experiences – it’s good to talk, and there’s so much to learn from the different generations, so share your life stories, no matter how long or short they may be
  • Find a buddy to share your passions with – if you love to go to the opera, watch cricket, or attend classic car shows but your partner doesn’t, there may be a new friend of a different generation who’d love to share in that passion with you

How To Establish A Cross-Generational Friendship

mug with 'what good shall i do this day?' slogan

You may not interact too much with people of different generations outside of your own family in your day-to-day life, but there are lots of opportunities to meet older/younger people. Here are a few ideas for where to get talking with different people:

  • Volunteer – Age UK has lots of information on volunteer opportunities, and you can ask if your local charity shop or care home needs a hand too. You can even sign up to become a befriender, which means you’ll be assigned an older person to befriend over the phone, so they’ve got someone to chat with to help combat loneliness
  • Chat to your neighbours – say ‘hello’ to older neighbours whenever you see them; if you notice you haven’t seen them for a while, pop round to see if they need a hand with getting any shopping in, and keep an eye on them during extreme weather to make sure they’re safe and have everything they need
  • Check in on older acquaintances – if you have elderly parents or grandparents, it’s likely that they may have friends of a similar age who may be struggling with loneliness. As you’ll have an acquaintance in common, this can be a good basis for striking up a conversation, and they may appreciate a visit from a friendly face every now and again
  • Join your local WI group – joining the Women’s Institute is a great way to meet new people; many city centre groups attract members of all ages with shared interests. If you’re nervous about attending your first meeting, take along a homemade cake – always a good conversation starter
  • Find a workplace mentor – according to the AARP research, 26% of multigenerational friendships in the US began in the workplace, so this is a great place to strike up this kind of relationship. You can learn a lot from an older mentor, but they’ll learn new ideas and ways of thinking from you too
  • Write to a penpal – if you love to write old-fashioned letters and to receive them in the post, signing up to a penpal service can be a lovely way to enjoy a friendship with someone of a different generation, potentially in another country
  • Look into multigenerational homes – this is a style of living where old and young live together, despite not being related – more on this below

What Are The Benefits Of Multigenerational Living?

Multigenerational homes see younger adults and older people living alongside each other, sharing a home, even if there is no family connection. 

to let signs outside terraced houses

Older people who are divorced, widowed, or who have suddenly found themselves with an empty nest may need help paying bills, rent, or the mortgage, and taking a younger lodger can help with this. For the younger person, this can provide a more affordable way for younger people to find somewhere to live in an expensive location.

The benefits of multigenerational living extend beyond the financial – although this is of course welcome amid the cost of living crisis. It can also help to combat loneliness and provides an opportunity for the different generations to learn from each other. 

Ideas For Intergenerational Activities For Seniors And Youth

Simply enjoying a cup of tea and a chat together is a great way to get a multigenerational friendship off to a good start. But if you’re getting along really well and want to start enjoying days out or other experiences together, we’ve compiled a list of ideas for intergenerational activities for seniors and youth alike to enjoy. Note: by ‘youth’, we don’t mean teenagers, just anyone who’s a little younger than you, even if it’s only by 10-15 years. 

  • Watch a classic film together introduce them to your most-loved movie or watch theirs – you might discover your new favourite film. Check out our list of the best films for seniors with older main characters if you’re looking for ideas
  • See some sport – whether they’ve always wanted to go to a test match or haven’t been to the football for years, taking your new friend to watch some sport will be a great fun day out for both of you, and it’ll feel incredibly rewarding too 
  • Try out a class together – from pottery to watercolour painting, research what classes are on in your area and try something new together. Finding a creative outlet can be really beneficial for your mental health, and the experience will demonstrate that you’re never too old to learn a new skill
  • Go to see a show – treat yourselves to a night at the theatre or take in a matinee. Whether you both love comedy or you’re introducing your friend to a new musical, seeing a show is a lovely way to make memories together
  • Read together – reading to an older person whose sight is going can be really rewarding. Alternatively, listen to an audiobook together, then you’ll both be getting exactly the same experience and you can discuss the story together afterwards too. Discover our recommendations for inspirational audiobooks with senior protagonists
  • Cook together – if you both love food, cooking together and swapping recipes can be lots of fun. Perhaps you could cook your signature dish while they bake a cake, and you might discover new meals and cuisine you’ve never tried before
  • Treat them to lunch or afternoon tea – take your new friend out for lunch, dinner, or afternoon tea. There’s no age restriction to enjoying good food or tucking into scones and jam!
china tea set

If you ever need to cancel an arrangement last-minute, make sure you rebook as soon as you can; the older person may have been counting on the interaction. If you can, check in on the phone or via a virtual call instead.

Making Friends In An Intergenerational Care Home

Moving into a care home can provide lots of opportunities for cross-generational friendships. There may be fellow residents who are 10 or even 20 years older or younger than you, who are part of a different generation and have totally different life experiences to share. 

You’ll also have the opportunity to build relationships with care home staff, who may be several decades younger than yourself. These friendships can be incredibly enriching for both parties, as you share stories and learn from each other.

If you’d like to arrange a visit to one of our homes to see if care home living could be for you, please contact us here