As acronyms go, it’s a good one. PANK. It stands for ‘Professional Aunt, No Kids’.
I’m a fully paid-up member of this group, a 40-something professional woman with little interest in kids of my own but an overwhelming love for my sister’s four-year-old daughter.
Now I can’t pass a newsagent without buying the latest Peppa Pig magazine. Browsing the shelves in toy shops for Nemo and Dory has become a popular past-time. And I know all the words to the Sofia the First theme tune.
New research, conducted by Opinium for Spectator Money, shows I’m not alone. PANKs lavish an average of £352 a year on their nieces and nephews, with some spending considerably more (yes, I’m in the latter camp). And two-fifths of PANKs (39 per cent) provide childcare for their sister’s and brother’s children.
Whether it’s because they are delaying motherhood, focusing on their career or have no desire to have kids of their own, PANKs are happy to funnel their disposable income towards their nieces and nephews.
Opinium Research found that most PANKs spend their money on material items. Gifts top the list of the most common presents as reported by half (50 per cent) of PANKs. Toys (32 per cent) and clothing (25 per cent) are the next most popular.
But PANKs are less likely to refuel piggy banks belonging to their nieces and nephews – only 15 per cent contribute in this way. Nearly half (49 per cent) prefer the the enjoyment of spoiling them. And nearly one in ten feel obliged to make up for things that their parents cannot afford.
Meanwhile, it is estimated that one in five British women aged 45 does not have children. The figure compares with one in eight among what could be described as their mothers’ generation – those born on the eve of the Second World War in 1939.
James Endersby, managing director of Opinium Research, said: ‘We all enjoy spoiling family members, so if it’s not our own children it’s far from uncommon to dote on the offspring of our nearest and dearest. PANKs are a growing demographic, as more adults choose to put off having children and focus on a career. The research reveals that the enjoyment in gift-giving and “spoiling” their nieces and nephews increasingly provides emotional benefits for PANKs and a financial benefit for their siblings, nephews and nieces.’
Babysitting plays a big part in the life of a PANK. Two fifths of PANKs enjoy spending quality time with their nieces and nephews. This is highest among young (18 to 34-years-old) PANKs, of whom over half provide childcare. Furthermore, single PANKs are more likely to provide childcare than those in a relationship.
Nancy Arnall, a 36-year-old teacher from Bury in Greater Manchester, often helps her sister and brother-in-law with their two young girls.
She said: ‘I help out with childcare, especially in the holidays as I’m free because I’m a teacher. This holiday I’m taking Ellie to see The Gruffalo’s Child and I went to see her drama performance last week. Usually I fill in when Jen and John are unable to do things due to work commitments, but I also babysit so that they can have time together as a couple.
‘I’m lucky, Jen and John are two of my best friends so I’m happy to help out, and the girls are amazing so they are a pleasure to spend time with, especially as I get to give them back at the end of the day, go home and crack open a bottle of wine in the peace of my flat. As far as money goes, I’m always on the look out for things when I go shopping. I don’t realise it, but I’m constantly spotting things that I know they’ll like, even when I’m doing my weekly supermarket shop.
‘I always assumed I’d have kids, but as a single 36-year-old I’m beginning to accept that it may not happen. Having two nieces, whose lives I can play such a significant role in, is extremely important to me, and they provide me with such joy that I wouldn’t have it any other way, though my bank balance might not agree.’
I echo Arnall’s thoughts. I spend as much time as possible with my niece. After I’ve written this article, I’m taking her to the local park. I pick her up from pre-school once a week and she’ll often come to ‘Aunty Helen’s’ for beans and mash. Yesterday I bought a soft toy Pomeranian called Gidget. It’s a far cry from the days when my money went on shoes and expensive mascara.
Helen Nugent is Online Money Editor of The Spectator