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Grandparents caring for their grandchildren: Findings from the 2004 Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe

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Grandparents caring for their grandchildren: Findings from the 2004 Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe

Abstract

Introducing findings from the 2004 Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), this research complements the large number of recent U.S. studies on the role of grandparents in caring for their grandchildren. For 10 continental European countries, the authors investigate cross-national variations in grandparent-provided child care as well as differences in characteristics of the providers and recipients of care. Although they find strong involvement of grandparents in their grandchildren's care across all countries, they also identify significant variations in the prevalence and intensity of care along the geographic lines of different child care and (maternal or female) employment regimes in Europe. Rooted in long-standing family cultures, the observed patterns suggest a complex interaction between welfare state—provided services and intergenerational family support in shaping the work—family nexus for younger parents. The authors conclude with a brief discussion of possible consequences of grandmothers' increasing labor force participation for child care arrangements.
Grandparents Caring for
Their Grandchildren
Findings From the 2004 Survey of Health,
Ageing, and Retirement in Europe
Karsten Hank
University of Mannheim, and Deutsches Institut
für Wirtschaftsforschung Berlin, Germany
Isabella Buber
Vienna Institute of Demography, Austrian Academy of Sciences
Introducing findings from the 2004 Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement
in Europe (SHARE), this research complements the large number of recent
U.S. studies on the role of grandparents in caring for their grandchildren. For
10 continental European countries, the authors investigate cross-national
variations in grandparent-provided child care as well as differences in
characteristics of the providers and recipients of care. Although they find strong
involvement of grandparents in their grandchildren’s care across all countries,
they also identify significant variations in the prevalence and intensity of care
along the geographic lines of different child care and (maternal or female)
employment regimes in Europe. Rooted in long-standing family cultures, the
observed patterns suggest a complex interaction between welfare state–provided
services and intergenerational family support in shaping the work–family nexus
for younger parents. The authors conclude with a brief discussion of possible
consequences of grandmothers’ increasing labor force participation for child
care arrangements.
Keywords: grandparents; grandchildren; child care; Europe; SHARE
Today, unprecedented low numbers of children are born in all contem-
porary Western societies, but because of advances in longevity, gener-
ations still enjoy “longer years of shared lives” than ever before (e.g.,
Bengtson & Lowenstein, 2003; Uhlenberg, 1996). This has been suggested
to result in an increasing relevance of multigenerational bonds (cf.
Bengtson, 2001), and recent studies have indeed shown that intergenera-
tional relations continue to be strong across a wide variety of family systems
Journal of Family Issues
Volume 30 Number 1
January 2009 53-73
© 2009 Sage Publications
10.1177/0192513X08322627
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53
(e.g., Attias-Donfut, Ogg, & Wolff, 2005a; Hank, 2007; Yi & Farrell,
2006) despite previous concerns about a possible “decline” of the family
(e.g., Popenoe, 1993).
The grandparent role is central to the model of intergenerational soli-
darity (cf. Silverstein, Giarrusso, & Bengtson, 1998), and child care pro-
vided by grandparents has been identified as a particularly important form
of multigenerational family support, which has received considerable
attention in many U.S. studies (e.g., Fuller-Thomson & Minkler, 2001;
Hayslip & Kaminski, 2005; Pebley & Rudkin, 1999; Vandell, McCartney,
Owen, Booth, & Clarke-Stewart, 2003). The availability of grandparents
and its implications regarding, for example, fertility decisions or mothers’
labor force participation has also been investigated in the European con-
text (e.g., Gray, 2005; Hank & Kreyenfeld, 2003), which is characterized
by very diverse regimes of fertility, female employment, and child care
(e.g., Brewster & Rindfuss, 2000). A comprehensive cross-national
account of European grandparents’ engagement in child care, though, is
missing (see, however, Attias-Donfut et al., 2005b; Dimova & Wolff,
2006).
This study uses recent data from the 2004 Survey of Health, Ageing,
and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) to investigate differences in the
prevalence and intensity of grandparent-provided child care as well as
differences in characteristics of the providers and recipients of care across
10 continental European countries. In the next section, we concisely
review findings of previous research, followed by a description of our
data and method. After the presentation of empirical findings, we con-
clude with a brief discussion of possible consequences of grandmothers’
increasing labor force participation for child care arrangements.
54 Journal of Family Issues
Authors’ Note: We thank Jürgen Maurer and Henriette Engelhardt for econometric advice and
two anonymous reviewers for their comments. The research presented here is based on data
from the early Release 1 of Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe (SHARE)
2004, which is preliminary and may contain errors that will be corrected in later releases. The
SHARE data collection has been primarily funded by the European Commission through the
fifth framework program (Project QLK6-CT-2001-00360 in the thematic program Quality of
Life). Additional funding came from the U.S. National Institute on Aging (U01 AG09740-13S2,
P01 AG005842, P01 AG08291, P30 AG12815, Y1-AG-4553-01, and OGHA 04-064). Data
collection in Austria (through the Austrian Science Fund, FWF) and Switzerland (through
BBW/OFES/UFES) was nationally funded. Further support by the European Commission
through the sixth framework program (Project RII-CT-2006-062193; SHARE-I3) is gratefully
acknowledged.
What Do We Know About Grandparent Caregiving?
Grandparent-provided child care is a core component of family support
in the broader context of intergenerational exchanges, constituting an
important emotional and economic resource for parents and children alike
(e.g., Bass & Caro, 1996; Brandon, 2000; Silverstein, Giarrusso, &
Bengtson, 2003, pp. 80-81).1Although the proportion of children living
with grandparents appears to have remained relatively stable over time, the
absolute number of U.S. grandparents providing custodial care, that is, act-
ing as the sole caretakers of underage grandchildren, increased substan-
tially during the 1990s (cf. Hayslip & Kaminski, 2005; Mutchler & Baker,
2004; Pebley & Rudkin, 1999). This development has often been suggested
to result from a significant increase in social problems, such as drug abuse
or teenage pregnancy, affecting parents’ ability to take the responsibility for
their children.
A much more common arrangement, however, is that of grandparents
providing child care assistance to non-coresident kin. When parental care is
not available because, for example, both parents participate in the labor
market, relative care appears to be the most popular alternative, and among
family relatives, grandparents are preferred the most (e.g., Brandon, 2000;
Wheelock & Jones, 2002). Guzman (1999, 2004), for example, reports that
almost 50% of grandparents in the United States provide some type of child
care, a number that is very similar to the respective shares observed in
Europe (cf. Attias-Donfut et al., 2005a, 2005b). In this larger group, vari-
ous types or patterns of grandparent-provided child care have been identi-
fied. Cherlin and Furstenberg (1986), for example, suggest a classification
of grandparents and their relationships to grandchildren where they distin-
guish influential, supportive, passive, authority-oriented, and detached clus-
ters (see also Mueller, Wilhelm, & Elder, 2002). Vandell et al. (2003), who
focus on the intensity of care rather than on the relationship content, dis-
criminate between extended full-time (30 or more hours per week),
extended part-time (less than 30 hours per week), sporadic, and no routine
care received by grandchildren (see also Fuller-Thomson & Minkler, 2001).
The extent to which grandparents get involved in child care has been
suggested to be driven primarily by the availability (and willingness) of
grandparents as well as by the needs (and preferences) of parents and their
children and—to a lesser degree—by the quality of intergenerational ties
(see Guzman, 1999, for example). Thus, characteristics of grandparents,
parents, and grandchildren will be relevant and should be considered jointly
in empirical analyses, in a three-generation perspective (Hagestad, 2006).2
Hank, Buber / Grandparents Caring for Grandchildren 55
Sociodemographic characteristics and availability of grandparents.
Grandmothers are more likely to be engaged in child care than grandfa-
thers, particularly if intensive care is considered, but a considerable share
of older men provide some kind of care for their grandchildren as well (cf.
Attias-Donfut et al., 2005a; Guzman, 2004). With regard to age, British evi-
dence suggests that the provision of child care peaks among women in their
50s and 60s (Gray, 2005). Silverstein and Marenco (2001) show that
younger U.S. grandparents tend to live closer to and have greater contact
(including babysitting) with grandchildren, whereas older grandparents
provide financial assistance. With respect to labor force participation,
Guzman (2004) reports that a higher percentage of employed grandparents
provide child care than those who are not employed or retired (see also
Wang & Marcotte, 2007). The intensity of child care provided by gainfully
employed grandparents, however, might be lower than among retirees, and
an increasing labor force participation of older women might thus threaten
the role of grandparents as regularly available carers (e.g.,Attias-Donfut et al.,
2005a; Gray, 2005). The potentially confounding role of health differentials
in the observed associations of child care with grandparents’ age and
employment is yet underinvestigated. Clear evidence, however, exists for a
close positive relationship between geographic proximity, particularly
coresidence, and grandparents’ propensity to provide child care (e.g.,
Baydar & Brooks-Gunn, 1998; Guzman, 2004; Vandell et al., 2003).
Sociodemographic characteristics and needs of parents and (grand-)
children. Maternal (full-time) employment and working nonstandard hours
have been shown to be positively associated with a greater involvement of
grandparents in child care (e.g., Kuhltau & Mason, 1996; Presser, 1989;
Vandell et al., 2003). Also, younger mothers are more likely to use grandpar-
ent care (e.g., Baydar & Brooks-Gunn, 1998; Vandell et al., 2003). Divorce
in the middle generation often brings about a decline in the quality of the
grandparent–grandchild relationships, and particularly grandparents on the
paternal side are at risk of losing contact with grandchildren (cf. Hagestad,
2006; Silverstein et al., 2003, pp. 79-80). Ambiguous evidence exists regard-
ing the significance of maternal education, single parenthood, and family
income for using grandparent care (e.g., Guzman, 1999; Kuhltau & Mason,
1996; Presser, 1989; Vandell et al., 2003). Finally, studies consistently show
that younger, that is, preschool age, grandchildren are most likely to be cared
for by grandparents (e.g., Guzman, 2004; Silverstein & Marenco, 2001),
whereas other potentially relevant demographic characteristics, such as the
child’s gender or number of siblings, appear to be unrelated to grandparent
caregiving (e.g., Guzman, 1999; Höpflinger & Hummel, 2006).
56 Journal of Family Issues
Proposing “that grandparent role enactment is a social construction that
varies across personal and historical time, as well as across cultural and
regional contexts,” Silverstein et al. (2003, pp. 75, 83) note that
the type and level of grandparent involvement have a basis in cultural norms
that emphasize or downplay the role of grandparents and in the social and
economic organizational aspects of the region that create or inhibit opportu-
nities for grandparents to contribute to the family unit.
Thus, examinations of grandparenting patterns in the European setting also
need to consider the role of cultural, sociodemographic, and welfare
state–related contextual factors that vary across countries. These factors
include family norms (e.g., regarding filial and parental responsibilities; cf.
Reher, 1998); opportunity structures for kin availability (e.g., geographic
proximity and frequency of contacts; cf. Hank, 2007), including variations
in older women’s labor force participation (cf. Brugiavini, Croda, &
Mariuzzo, 2005, p. 237); and public policies supporting families. Because
the availability of institutional child care has often been suggested to have
a significant impact on mothers’ employment (e.g., Stolzenberg & Waite,
1984; Uunk, Kalmijn, & Muffels, 2005) and, eventually, on the demand for
child care provided by grandparents or other kin (e.g., Gray, 2005; Van Dijk
& Siegers, 1996), we particularly expect to find significant differences in
the intensity of grandparent-provided care along the geographic lines of dif-
ferent child care and (maternal or female) employment regimes in Europe
(e.g., Brewster & Rindfuss, 2000; Gornick, Meyers, & Ross, 1998; Gustafsson
& Stafford, 1994).
Data and Method
The data for this study are drawn from the first public release version of
the 2004 Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe (SHARE; see
Börsch-Supan et al., 2005). Release 1 of the data contains information on
some 22,000 individuals ages 50 or older from 15,000 households in Austria,
Denmark, France, Greece, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden,
Switzerland, and Spain. These 10 countries represent continental Europe’s
economic, social, institutional, and cultural diversity from Scandinavia to the
Mediterranean. Probability samples were drawn in all participating countries,
but the respective institutional conditions with respect to sampling are so dif-
ferent that a uniform sampling design for the entire project was infeasible. As
a result, the sampling designs used vary from a simple random selection of
Hank, Buber / Grandparents Caring for Grandchildren 57
households (in the Danish case, for example, from the country’s central
population register) to rather complicated multistage designs (as, for
example, in Greece, where the telephone directory was used as a sampling
frame). The weighted average household response rate is 62%, ranging
from 38% in Switzerland to 74% in France (a thorough description of
methodological issues is contained in Börsch-Supan & Jürges, 2005).
All grandparents were asked whether they looked after any grandchil-
dren “without the presence of the parents” during the 12 months before the
interview, and if they did, whose child that was and how often that was on
average. Note that SHARE does not provide information about custodial
care. If a person reported to have looked after grandchildren from more
than one child, the analysis is restricted to that child for whom the greatest
frequency of caregiving was reported (or if that did not suffice as an unam-
biguous selection criterion, we chose the youngest child with the greatest
frequency of care). If a respondent reported to have more than one grand-
child but did not look after any of them, the youngest grandchild and his or
her parent were selected for inclusion in the multivariate analysis. We con-
centrate on grandparents with at least one grandchild younger than the age
of 16 (cf. Gray, 2005). Excluding respondents with missing or inconsistent
information on children, grandchildren, or social support results in a sam-
ple of slightly more than 10,000 observations.
We estimate two separate logit models. In the first model, the binary
dependent variable equals 1 if the respondent reported to have provided any
child care and 0 otherwise. In the subsequent model, the sample is restricted
to grandparents who reported to have looked after a grandchild at all, and
the binary dependent variable equals 1 if child care was provided “almost
weekly or more often” and 0 otherwise (i.e., “less often than almost
weekly”). This analytic strategy basically amounts to estimating a hurdle or
two-step model, that is, the coefficients of one covariate are not restricted
to affect the various grandchild care outcomes in the same way. Moreover,
to facilitate the interpretation of the coefficients for the country indicators
in the regression, we use effect coding as a readily available alternative to
the dummy coding approach. Effect coding uses contrast weights that result
in tests of deviations of group means from the intercept coefficient, which
inherits the value of the grand mean (see, for example, Wendorf, 2004,
pp. 54-55). That is, different from dummy coding where coefficients indi-
cate deviations from the omitted reference group, the coefficients of the k
country indicators in our model specify each country’s deviation from the
grand mean of all observations. In effect coding, the reference group
receives a value of –1 on all between-group vectors; the regression coefficient
58 Journal of Family Issues
of this group is eventually calculated as the sum of all k– 1 regression
coefficients with their signs reversed.
In all models, which we run separately for grandfathers and grandmoth-
ers, the right-hand side variables include information on the grandparent,
on the mother or father of the grandchild (depending on which of them is
the SHARE respondent’s child), and on the grandchild. Grandparent char-
acteristics are age (three categories: 50 to 59, 60 to 69, and 70-plus years),
partnership status (indicating whether the respondent lives in a union),
employment status (working vs. nonworking), health (a binary indicator of
activities-of-daily-living [ADL] limitations), and geographic proximity to
the grandchild’s parent (three categories: living in the same house or house-
hold, less than 5 km apart, or more than 5 km apart). Parent characteristics
are sex, partnership status (a binary indicator of whether the parent lives in
a union), and—for a subset of analyses—the mother’s employment status
(working vs. nonworking). The latter information is available only if the
selected grandchild’s mother is the respondent’s daughter. The only charac-
teristic of the grandchild that we can derive from the SHARE data is his or
her age (5 categories: 0, 1 to 2, 3 to 5, 6 to 10, and 11 to 15 years).
In our descriptive analysis, we also exploit information from one of the
survey’s self-completion questionnaires, where respondents were asked
how much they agreed with the statement, “Grandparents’ duty is to help
grandchildren’s parents in looking after young grandchildren.” We
dichotomized the original answer categories, which resulted in a variable
that equals 1 if the respondent (strongly) agreed and 0 otherwise. The self-
completion questionnaire version that includes this information was not
administered to the full SHARE sample (cf. Börsch-Supan & Jürges, 2005),
which results in a somewhat smaller number of observations for this part of
our analysis. See Table 1 for pooled descriptive statistics.
Empirical Findings
Descriptive Findings3
An examination of the overall level of grandparent-provided child care
reveals a generally high prevalence of such intergenerational support:
Across all countries in our study, 58% of grandmothers and 49% of grand-
fathers provided some kind of care for a grandchild ages 15 or younger
during a 12-month period (see Figure 1). Grandfathers’ high participation
in child care is consistent with previous evidence from the United States
Hank, Buber / Grandparents Caring for Grandchildren 59
60 Journal of Family Issues
Table 1
Pooled Descriptive Sample Statistics (unweighted percentages)
Characteristic Grandfathers Grandmothers Grandparents
Provision of grandchild care during last 12 months
Never 49 39 43
Less than almost weekly 27 29 28
Almost weekly or more often 24 32 28
Sociodemographic characteristics of grandparent
Age 50-59 years 23 31 27
Age 60-69 years 44 42 43
Age 70+years 34 27 30
Living with partner 90 73 81
Working 23 19 21
One or more ADL limitations 9 9 9
Living in the same house or household with child 7 9 8
Living up to 5 km apart from child 37 38 38
Living more than 5 km apart from child 55 53 55
Sociodemographic characteristics of parent
Female 55 53 54
Living with partner 92 91 92
Grandchild’s age (years)
01099
1-2 28 25 26
3-5 24 24 24
6-10 23 25 24
11-15 15 17 16
Country of residence
Sweden (n=1,707) 17 16 17
Denmark (n=842) 8 8 8
Germany (n=1,263) 13 12 12
The Netherlands (n=1,472) 15 14 14
France (n=855) 8 8 8
Switzerland (n=360) 4 3 3
Austria (n=897) 8 9 9
Italy (n=1,118) 10 11 11
Spain (n=1,077) 10 11 10
Greece (n=700) 6 7 7
N(unweighted) 4,590 5,701 10,291
Grandparent’s agreement to child care norma
(Strong) agreement 46 48 47
N(unweighted) 3,264 4,073 7,337
Source: Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe 2004 (Release 1), authors’
calculations.
Note: ADL =activities of daily living.
a. Obtained from the survey’s self-completion questionnaire.
61
Figure 1
Grandmothers and Grandfathers Who Provided Any Child Care in the Past 12 Months (in percentages)
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
45
50
55
60
65
70
75
Spain Italy Switzerland Austria Greece Germany Sweden France Netherlands Denmark All countries
Grandmothers Grandfathers
Source: Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement 2004 (Release 1), weighted data, authors' calculations.
Note: Countries are sorted in ascending order for grandmothers.
(cf. Guzman, 2004) and varies cross-nationally to a similar extent as grand-
mothers’ involvement in care. Somewhat surprising is that the lowest shares
of grandparents caring for grandchildren are found in Spain, Italy, and
Switzerland (just more than 50% of grandmothers and only slightly more
than 40% of grandfathers), whereas the highest prevalence of care is
observed in Sweden, France, the Netherlands, and Denmark. Grandparents
in the latter two countries are particularly active: Not only do 65% or more
of the grandmothers provide at least some child care but also about 60% of
grandfathers.
The order of countries changes almost completely if we focus on the
intensity of grandchild care and consider only those grandparents who pro-
vide any child care at all (see Figure 2). We distinguish between regular
care (almost weekly or more often) and occasional care (less often than almost
weekly). Sweden and Denmark, but also France, exhibit below-average levels
of regular child care by grandparents, whereas the respective share of Greek
and Italian, but also Spanish, grandparents is almost twice as high as in the
Scandinavian countries (roughly 40% vs. 20%). With 32% of grandmothers
and 25% of grandfathers looking almost weekly or more often after grand-
children, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland take an
average position. Among regular carers, the gender gap—in terms of a
stronger involvement of grandmothers—is somewhat more pronounced
than among grandparents providing any child care.
Our final descriptive analysis pertains to grandparents’ agreement with
the statement that it is their duty to help grandchildren’s parents in looking
after young grandchildren (see Figure 3). Whereas a clear majority of
grandparents expresses support for this statement, irrespective of whether
they never provided child care during the preceding 12 months (73%),
cared occasionally (71%), or cared regularly (82%), we observe substantial
cross-national variation. Compliance is very high in the Mediterranean
countries (and almost universal among frequent carers in Greece) as well as
in Germany and France, whereas a child care “norm” finds only very lim-
ited support in Denmark and the Netherlands: Even among grandparents
who cared for a grandchild on a weekly or even daily basis, barely 50%
agree that this is a duty for the elder generation.
Multivariate Results
The outcomes of the control variables are fairly similar in both the
model that we use to estimate the probability to provide any grandchild care
(Model 1) and the model estimating the propensity to provide regular care
62 Journal of Family Issues
Figure 2
Grandmothers and Grandfathers Who Provided Child Care Almost Weekly or More Often
in the Past 12 Months (in percentages)
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
45
Sweden Denmark France Germany Netherlands Switzerland Austria Spain Italy Greece All countries
Grandmothers Grandfathers
Source: Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement 2004 (Release 1), weighted data, authors' calculations.
Note: Countries are sorted in ascending order for grandmothers.
63
64
Figure 3
Grandparents’ Agreement to Child Care Norm by Frequency of Care (in percentages)
0
10
20
30
40
50
06
70
80
90
100
Netherlands Denmark Switzerland Sweden Austria France Spain Italy Germany Greece All countries
never < weekly weekly+
Source: Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement 2004 (Release 1), weighted data, authors' calculations.
Note: Countries sorted in ascending order for the category weekly+.
(Model 2); see Table 2. With regard to age, grandfathers’ probability to pro-
vide any child care peaks at ages 60 to 69, and grandmothers’ propensity to
care for a grandchild (at all as well as regularly) is lowest among those ages
70 or older. Although partnership status bears no significant correlation with
grandmothers’ probability to look after grandchildren, lone grandfathers are
less likely to care than those living with a partner, which suggests that some
of the grandfather involvement indicated by the descriptive analysis is medi-
ated through grandmothers’ engagement in child care. Grandparents’
employment status is unrelated to their propensity to provide grandchild care
in general, but working grandparents are clearly less likely to care on a reg-
ular basis than their counterparts who are not gainfully employed. Health
(i.e., ADL) limitations are associated with lower probabilities of grandpar-
ents to care for a grandchild at all, and this negative association also holds
for grandmothers’ propensity to provide regular care. The likelihood of car-
ing decreases unambiguously with increasing geographic distance between
the older and the younger generations, particularly so if regular grandchild
care is considered. Maternal grandparents are more likely to be involved in
both any and regular child care. Lone parents have a greater chance to be
supported by grandfathers and grandmothers if any child care is considered,
whereas only grandmothers exhibit a statistically significant higher propen-
sity to care for a grandchild living with a single parent. Eventually, regard-
ing the grandchild’s age, both models reveal a clear pattern indicating that
grandparent-provided child care is less likely among toddlers (compared to
children ages 1 or 2) but generally decreases with age.
Even when this broad set of grandparent, parent, and grandchild charac-
teristics is controlled for in the multivariate analysis, substantial differences
in country coefficients are found, which continue to support the pattern
already indicated in Figures 1 through 3, suggesting the existence of three
distinct regional groups. Grandparents in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland
exhibit an average propensity to provide both any and regular child care.
Danish, Dutch, French, and Swedish grandparents are most likely to care at
all but least likely to look after a grandchild regularly. And finally, grandpar-
ents in the Mediterranean countries are less likely than the average European
grandparent to provide any child care, but those who do care are the ones
most likely to do so regularly (note that the coefficient for the Greek country
dummy in Model 1 has a negative sign but is not statistically significant).
For a subsample of our data, we included the employment status of the
selected grandchild’s mother. SHARE provides this information only if the
mother is the respondent’s daughter. The outcomes of the control variables
and country indicators in this subset of analyses are almost identical to the
Hank, Buber / Grandparents Caring for Grandchildren 65
66 Journal of Family Issues
Table 2
Results of Logit Models for the Provision of “Any Grandchild Care”
and “Regular Grandchild Care” Using Effect Coding
Model 1: Model 2:
Provision of Any Care Provision of Regular Care
Characteristic Grandfathers Grandmothers Grandfathers Grandmothers
Grandparent characteristics
Age (years)
50-59a0000
60-69 0.34*** 0.05 –0.19 0.07
70+–0.04 –0.82*** –0.19 –0.34*
Partnership status
Living with partnera0000
Living without partner –0.97*** –0.09 –0.64** –0.03
Employment status
Workinga0000
Not working 0.02 0.08 0.82*** 0.32**
Health
No ADL limitationsa0000
1+ADL limitations –0.32** –0.50*** 0.17 –0.41*
Proximity
Living in same house or householda0000
Living up to 5 km apart –0.36** –0.58*** –1.00*** –0.95***
Living more than 5 km apart –1.02*** –1.38*** –2.32*** –2.34***
Parent characteristics
Sex
Malea0000
Female 0.46*** 0.59*** 0.24* 0.46***
Partnership status
Living with partnera0000
Living without partner 0.37** 0.30* 0.25 0.30*
Grandchild characteristics
Age (years)
0 –0.31** –0.64*** –0.26 –0.29*
1-2a0000
3-5 0.08 –0.22* –0.33** –0.28**
6-10 –0.31*** –0.62*** –0.42** –0.54***
11-15 –1.37*** –1.69*** –0.63** –0.78***
Country
Sweden 0.16* 0.33*** –0.60*** –0.80***
Denmark 0.58*** 0.69*** –0.76*** –0.92***
Germany 0.11 –0.09 0.06 –0.12
The Netherlands 0.59*** 0.41*** –0.39*** –0.28**
France 0.29** 0.36*** –0.63*** –0.23
Switzerland –0.22 –0.260.15 0.46*
Austria –0.10 –0.20* –0.09 0.17
Italy –0.75*** –0.58*** 1.05*** 0.99***
Spain –0.63*** –0.58*** 0.43** 0.04
Greece –0.03 –0.08 0.79*** 0.69***
Constant 1.90*** 2.05*** 1.85* 1.61***
Pseudo R2.10 .16 .19 .19
N(unweighted) 4,408 5,505 2,345 3,469
Source: Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe 2004 (Release 1), authors’calculations.
Note: ADL =activities of daily living.
a. Reference category.
p<.10. *p<.05. **p<.01. ***p<.001.
results for the full sample described above (cf. appendix). As expected, the
probability that grandparents provide any or regular child care is generally
lower if the grandchild’s mother is not gainfully employed (distinguishing
further between full-time and part-time employment does not yield different
results). In a final set of analyses, we ran separate regressions by country
(region, respectively) that provided no indication for structural differences in
the relationship between grandparent’s propensity to engage in child care and
the right-hand side variables, however (details not shown here).
Discussion
Our analysis of grandparent-provided child care in 10 continental
European countries adds further to the picture of continuously close inter-
generational exchanges in contemporary societies that has been portrayed
in a number of recent studies (e.g., Attias-Donfut et al., 2005a; Hank, 2007;
Yi & Farrell, 2006). Across Europe, high levels of support are found with
regard to both the prevalence and the intensity of child care provided by
grandmothers and grandfathers. Across a variety of country contexts, the
analysis also confirms the near-universal relevance of sociodemographic
characteristics related to the availability and needs of the providers and
recipients of informal child care (such as age or employment status). Still,
we also find partial support for a north–south gradient in Europe in terms
of actual child care provided by grandparents as well as in terms of compli-
ance to support related norms. However, our results indicate that one must
not oversimplify regional patterns of family support in Europe (see Glaser,
Tomassini, & Grundy, 2004, for a related discussion). Caution is recom-
mended not only because the observed gradient exhibits outliers that would
not fit into a mere dichotomy of “weak” versus “strong” family countries
but also because the direction of the gradient is ambiguous.
This is the most striking finding in our analysis: The probability to provide
some kind of child care is highest among Danish, Dutch, French, and
Swedish grandparents and lowest among their Mediterranean counterparts in
Spain and Italy, whereas—conditioned on the provision of any grandchild
care—Greek, Italian, and Spanish grandparents exhibit the highest and Dutch
and French grandparents as well as elders from the Nordic countries exhibit
the lowest propensity to care frequently (almost every week or more often).
We suggest three complimentary explanations for this outcome, which can-
not be attributed to cross-national differences in grandparents’ labor force
participation or geographic proximity (cf. Attias-Donfut et al., 2005b), poten-
tial confounders that we control for in the multivariate analysis.
Hank, Buber / Grandparents Caring for Grandchildren 67
Our findings are, first, consistent with results from a recent cross-
national analysis of broader intergenerational exchanges of time and money
conducted by Albertini, Kohli, and Vogel (2007). The authors conclude
that co-residence is the Southern European way of transferring resources
from parents to children and vice versa. This is the norm, and when it hap-
pens that an elderly parent remains alone he/she is less likely to give or
receive help than an elderly parent in the Continental or Nordic countries.
However, in the relatively few cases in which resource exchange does take
place between non-co-residing parents and children, it tends to be much more
intense than in other counties, thus probably resembling what in the “normal”
families occurs within the household. In the Nordic countries, where inter-
generational co-residence is rare, family support tends to revolve around
separate households and to be less intense. (p. 326)
Thus, given that the presence of grandchildren unequivocally reduces the
propensity of parents and adult children to coreside (cf. Hank, 2007), the
pattern of grandparent-provided child care described in our study should
not come as a surprise.
Second, variations in the interpretation of the meaning of “looking after
grandchildren” among SHARE countries might play a role. In a study of
adult children’s support to older parents, Ogg and Renaut (2006) detect a
north–south gradient that is very similar to the one we find for grandchild
care: Although the proportions of the younger generation providing any
practical help to their parents were high in the Nordic countries and low in
the Mediterranean ones, the shares of helpers who provided regular help
had an inverse pattern, being low in the north and much higher in the south.
The authors suggest that the observed differences could
arise from the need for a certain social distance between donors and recipi-
ents before “help” and “social support” are recognized and reported. In close
families,... activities that involve “low-key” support may not be construed
as being “help” or “support.” (Ogg & Renaut, 2006, p. 739).
Along the same line of argumentation, one may assume that grandparents
report to have provided child care only if the intensity of care has passed a
certain threshold. This should vary with scores on “nonfunctional” dimen-
sions of family solidarity, such as affectual or associational solidarity (cf.
Bengtson, 2001), indicating the degree of closeness in intergenerational rela-
tions beyond the exchange of instrumental support. Given that recent
research by, for example, Hank (2007), who investigated proximity and con-
tacts between older parents and their children, confirmed the notion of closer
family relations in Mediterranean countries compared to their northern
68 Journal of Family Issues
counterparts, one might expect the “reporting threshold” suggested above
to be higher in the former than in the latter countries.
Finally, and third, our observations may also be connected to variations
in child care and (female or maternal) employment regimes in Europe.
Although, for example, the provision of full-time care and coverage with
slots for children younger than the age of three in the Nordic countries is at
or even greater than 40%, much lower levels (<10%) are prevalent in south-
ern Europe or (western) Germany (e.g., Andersson, Duvander, & Hank,
2004; Del Boca, 2002; Hank & Kreyenfeld, 2003). Similarly strong differ-
ences are found with regard to female labor force participation, which is
well below 50% in the Mediterranean countries, whereas more than three
quarters of women in the Scandinavian countries are gainfully employed
(cf. Brewster & Rindfuss, 2000; Uunk et al., 2005). This gap increases even
further if maternal employment is considered. Thus, a likely situation in
Sweden or Denmark—and also in France (see Köppen, 2006, for
example)—is that publicly provided child care creates an opportunity struc-
ture that fosters maternal employment but that many grandparents are
needed to complement institutional care occasionally (e.g., if the grand-
child’s mother needs to work extra time). In Greece, Italy, and Spain, on the
other hand, the lack of public day care for children inhibits maternal
employment, and there is only limited demand for grandparents to step in
because mothers tend to be full-time carers. If, however, a Mediterranean
mother decides to seek gainful employment, she has to rely on grandpar-
ents’ support on a regular basis (see also Wheelock & Jones, 2002, on com-
plementary child care and parents’ employment in Britain).
Rooted in long-standing family cultures (Reher, 1998), these European
patterns of grandparent-provided child care suggest a complex interaction
between services provided by the welfare state and intergenerational family
support in shaping the work–family nexus for younger parents. Our analysis
also shows that welfare states do not crowd out families and provides further
evidence for mixed responsibilities (see Motel-Klingebiel, Tesch-Römer, &
von Kondratowitz, 2005, for a related discussion). The continuing role of
grandmothers in maternal labor supply, however, raises concerns about the
possible consequences of a greater and longer participation of grandmothers
in the labor force (see Gray, 2005, and Wang & Marcotte, 2007, for related
studies). If grandmothers will be increasingly involved in gainful employment,
the need to balance work and family commitments will become a multigener-
ational family matter rather than a challenge for younger parents alone—and,
in parallel, families and welfare states will have to newly balance their joint
responsibility to provide adequate care for future generations of children.
Hank, Buber / Grandparents Caring for Grandchildren 69
70 Journal of Family Issues
Appendix
Results of Logit Models for the Provision of
“Any Grandchild Care” and “Regular Grandchild Care”
(Daughters Only) Using Effect Coding
Model 3: Model 4:
Provision of Any Care Provision of Regular Care
Characteristic Grandfathers Grandmothers Grandfathers Grandmothers
Grandparent characteristics
Age (years)
50-59a00 0 0
60-69 0.48*** –0.11 –0.11 0.08
70+0.27–0.96*** –0.27 –0.40*
Partnership status
Living with partnera00 0 0
Living without partner –0.79*** 0.08 –0.460.01
Employment status
Workinga00 0 0
Not working –0.01 0.250.72*** 0.37*
Health
No ADL limitationsa00 0 0
1+ADL limitations –0.22 –0.40* 0.48–0.16
Proximity
Living in same house or householda00 0 0
Living up to 5 km apart –0.50* –0.51** –0.77** –1.25***
Living more than 5 km apart –1.19*** –1.31*** –2.05*** –2.63***
Mother’s characteristics
Employment status
Working 0 0 0 0
Not workinga–0.47*** –0.57*** –0.19 –0.61***
Partnership status
Living with partnera00 0 0
Living without partner 0.51** 0.42** 0.30 0.41*
Grandchild characteristics
Age (years)
0 –0.29–0.59*** –0.39–0.32
1-2a00 0 0
3-5 –0.05 –0.22 –0.48** –0.45**
6-10 –0.60*** –0.88*** –0.42* –0.59***
11-15 –1.67*** –1.90*** –0.80** –1.02***
Country
Sweden 0.03 0.21–0.53*** –0.84***
Denmark 0.64*** 0.62*** –0.93*** –1.01***
Germany 0.04 0.04 –0.17 –0.26
The Netherlands 0.56*** 0.47*** –0.44** –0.28*
France 0.15 0.05 –0.54** –0.38*
Switzerland –0.19 –0.20 –0.13 0.40
Austria 0.10 –0.16 –0.09 0.37*
Italy –0.72*** –0.48*** 1.01*** 1.04***
Spain –0.60*** –0.45*** 0.91*** 0.33
Greece –0.01 –0.11 0.90*** 0.62**
Constant 2.30*** 2.62*** 1.81*** 2.51***
Pseudo R2.11 .16 .18 .20
N(unweighted) 2,394 2,926 1,387 2,027
Source: Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe 2004 (Release 1), authors’calculations.
Note: ADL =activities of daily living.
a. Reference category.
p<.10. *p<.05. **p<.01. ***p<.001.
Notes
1. These benefits may not always come without a price, though. Custodial grandparents in
particular have been shown to experience significant caregiver burden and lower life satisfac-
tion (e.g., Goodmann & Silverstein, 2006; but see Hughes, Waite, LaPierre, & Luo, 2007).
2. Because our study’s empirical focus is on child care assistance, we will not discuss the
particular determinants of custodial care (see Pebley & Rudkin, 1999, for an overview).
3. This section updates and extends a previous analysis by Attias-Donfut, Ogg, and Wolf
(2005b), which was based on a nonpublic release of the 2004 Survey of Health, Ageing, and
Retirement in Europe data.
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Hank, Buber / Grandparents Caring for Grandchildren 73
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Intergenerational relations have received close attention in the context of population aging and increased childcare provision by grandparents. However, few studies have investigated the psychological consequences of becoming a grandparent. In a preregistered test of grandparenthood as a developmental task in middle and older adulthood, we used representative panel data from the Netherlands ( N = 563) and the United States ( N = 2210) to analyze first-time grandparents’ personality and life satisfaction development. We tested gender, employment, and grandchild care as moderators. To address confounding, we employed propensity score matching using two procedures: matching grandparents with parents and nonparents to achieve balance in different sets of carefully selected covariates. Multilevel models demonstrated mean-level stability of the Big Five personality traits and life satisfaction over the transition to grandparenthood, and no consistent moderation effects—contrary to the social investment principle. The few small effects of grandparenthood on personality development did not replicate across samples. We found no evidence of larger inter-individual differences in change in grandparents compared to the controls or of lower rank-order stability. Our findings add to recent critical re-examinations of the social investment principle and are discussed in light of characteristics that might moderate grandparents’ personality development.
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