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  • How grandparents' involvement affects their own lives, their children, and their grandchildren. Tweet This
  • Especially in areas where child care is expensive, grandparents are a crucial aid to working parents. Tweet This

1. About half of all grandparents, both in the U.S. and Europe, provide some kind of child care to their grandkids. As of 2011, one in ten American kids actually lived with a grandparent (or two). Four in five of them also have at least one parent in the household, and four in ten are cared for primarily by their grandparent(s). The number of children living with a grandparent grew sharply during the recession, since some families combined households for financial reasons, and has since plateaued. Children in households with income below or close to the poverty line are more likely than non-poor children to live with or be cared for by a grandparent, and black, Hispanic, and Asian children are more likely to live with a grandparent than white children.

2. So how does caring for grandkids affect grandparents? Caring for children at an older age can be stressful, and reduce the amount of time grandparents have to exercise, spend time with friends, and maintain their other relationships. On the other hand, some grandparents find it rewarding and report that it makes them healthier and more active.

Studies suggest the net impact appears to be negative; however, some scholars argue that the association between caring for grandkids and poorer health is mainly attributable to background characteristics. For grandparents caring for grandchildren in the absence of the parents, especially if their resources are limited, caregiving is more likely to have a detrimental impact. In a separate domain—cognitive function—grandparents who babysit but are not primary caregivers for their grandkids appear to benefit slightly from their caregiving roles.

3. Grandchildren seem to benefit from their grandparents’ care, too, even if they also have good relationships with their parents. In tougher situations—with a depressed or divorced parents, for instance—grandparents play a “buffering” role, compensating for an absent parent (or two) or lessening the impact of such stressors. Grandkids continue to benefit into early adulthood: closeness to grandparents reduces depressive symptoms among yound adults.

4. Grandparents’ ability and willingness to care for grandchildren also, unsurprisingly, affects those children’s parents. In areas where child care is expensive, grandparents are a crucial source of help to working parents. Particularly for single parents of young children, a reliable grandparent may be the difference between holding down a steady job and working only sporadically for lack of child care. Grandparents also shape the labor force participation of married mothers, who presumably have both greater financial resources and fewer time constraints than single ones: Married women with young kids who live near their mothers or mothers-in-law, and can thus call on them for occasional or regular child care, are four to ten percentage points more likely to be employed or in the labor force than those who live far from them.

5. Good news for grandparents who want more grandkids: Providing emotional support and child care help to your adult sons and daughters may make them more likely to have another child, according to a study of four European countries. That’s particularly true, the researchers say, “when a family’s socioeconomic situation and the broader environment are generally favourable for having several children,” in which case involved grandparents may “provide the ‘extra push’ that supports the intention to have another child.”