Summary / March 2013
By Karen Glaser, Debora Price,
Eloi Ribe Montserrat, Giorgio
di Gessa and Anthea Tinker.
Grandparenting in Europe:
family policy and grandparents’ role in providing childcare
This study examines international data from European countries on grandparenting
from SHARE (Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe), ELSA (the
English Longitudinal Study of Ageing), censuses and other data sources in addition
to mapping data on parental and grandparental policies for leave and exible work,
family support from the state in the form of childcare and family benets, retirement
and adult care policies, and labour market, childcare and family cultures and
structures, to address the following questions:
How do the living arrangements of grandparents vary within and across 1.
European countries, and how have they changed over time?
How do the characteristics of grandparents vary across Europe in terms of 2.
age, living arrangements, socio-economic status, education, marital status,
participation in paid work, retirement status and health?
How does the level of involvement of grandparents with their grandchildren 3.
vary across Europe in terms of contact, help and care? What characteristics of
grandparents help to explain the diversity of arrangements?
How do family policies vary, and how are these variations in policy related 4.
to observed diversity in the levels of involvement of grandparents with their
Key Findings 2
three generation and skipped-generation households 4
Grandparent characteristics in 12 European countries 5
Grandparental care 8
Family policy and patterns of grandparenting 10
Findings from the multivariate analysis:
grandparental characteristics associated with childcare 12
1 Commission of the European Communities 2005. Green paper, confronting demographic change: A
new solidarity between the generations. Brussels.
Younger grandmothers who are t, healthy and with
younger grandchildren are the most likely to be providing
care for their grandchildren, however they are also the
very women who governments across Europe are aiming
to encourage to stay in paid work for longer, in order to
grow our economies and fund pensions, social care and
other welfare provision in later life. Their vital but invisible
role in providing childcare, whether intensive, regular or
occasional, is likely to conict with their ability to self-
nance their old age, especially as widows’ benets in both
state and employer pension schemes are eroded. The risk
is an emerging care gap as older women remain in work
longer, become less available to provide childcare and so
adversely affect mothers’ labour market participation.
Across Europe increased life expectancy means it is now quite common for a
child to grow up while their grandparents and even great grandparents are alive.
Grandparents have always provided nancial, emotional and practical care and
support to their children and grandchildren. However, this role has generally
been taken for granted by families and governments, and grandparents have little
recognition and few rights. Ageing populations, more mothers in the labour market
and higher rates of divorce and relationship breakdown all indicate that the role
grandparents play in family life is likely to become increasingly signicant. In many
countries austerity measures and cuts to public services are likely to lead to an
expectation that grandparents will step in to ll care gaps for children and adults.
Yet our understanding of grandparenting and how policy environments inuence
the role which grandparents play is limited. This research seeks to address this
knowledge gap and inform debate on policy inuencing the grandparental role.
Lower fertility and increased life expectancy mean that over the next two decades
a fth to a quarter of the population in many European countries will be aged over
65.1 Population ageing is leading to increased emphasis on the health and wellbeing
of older people, with an expectation that older men and women participate
for longer in paid work. At the same time there is often an implicit assumption
that older people will continue to play a vital caring role within their families.
Grandparents are important providers of childcare, enabling mothers to enter or
remain in paid work. They may also need to step in to take on the full-time role of
raising grandchildren in difcult and distressing circumstances if parents are unable
to do so, for example due to death, physical or mental health problems, drug or
alcohol misuse, or imprisonment.
How far grandparents’ informal caring roles can be combined with paid work is
highly relevant for public policy, not only in relation to family and the labour market
but also pensions and retirement, and for understanding inequalities across the
life course. As we understand more about the role that grandparents play across
Europe, we realise that it is important to implement social policies that help sustain
these important, complex and potentially fragile social relationships.
Grandparenting in Europe / 1
Our study shows that across Europe grandparents, and grandmothers in particular,
are playing a major role in providing both intensive and occasional care for their
grandchildren. Over 40% of grandparents in the 11 European countries2 studied
provide grandchild care without the child’s parents present, while in Britain the
British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey showed that 63% of grandparents with a
grandchild under 16 do so.3
Younger grandmothers who are t, healthy and with younger grandchildren – the
most likely to be providing care for their grandchildren – are the very women
who governments across Europe are aiming to encourage to stay in paid work for
longer, in order to increase productivity and pay for their own pensions, health and
social care in later life. Their vital but invisible role in providing childcare, whether
intensive, regular and/or occasional, is likely to conict with their own ability to
self-nance their old age, especially as widow’s benets in both state and employer
pension schemes are eroded.
England and Wales, like the U.S., has experienced an increase in the prevalence
of skipped-generation households – households consisting of grandparents and
grandchildren but without the parents. This rose from 0.25% of adults aged 35 and
over living in such households in 1981 to 0.42% in 2001. These households are likely
to experience poverty and disadvantage. No other European country studied so far
follows this pattern.
Our study shows considerable variations in the characteristics of grandparents
across the European countries studied. English grandparents are relatively young,
more likely to be in paid work and have more grandchildren on average than
grandparents in the remaining 11 European countries. In England one in four (23%)
grandparents aged 50 and over are in paid work, compared with an average of just
one in seven across the other 11 countries studied. Only Denmark and Sweden have
a higher percentage of working grandparents.
While overall grandparents in the European countries studied provide high levels
of childcare, there are striking variations in the intensity and frequency of the care
provided. In France, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands between 50% and 60%
of grandparents provide some childcare compared with just 40% in the Southern
European countries. However, regular and intensive grandchild care is more
common in Southern Europe, with 20% of grandparents in Italy providing almost
daily childcare compared with just 2% of grandparents in the Netherlands.
Across the European countries studied, grandparents who are younger, with higher
educational levels, in better health, and whose youngest grandchild is under age six
are more likely to provide childcare.
Differences in the characteristics of grandparents in the different countries (such as
age and marital status) explain some of the differences in grandparental childcare
across the 12 European countries.
However, there are signicant differences between countries too. The research
nds that different family policy contexts are associated with varying patterns of
2 The 11 SHARE countries are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the
Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
3 Wellard, S. 2011. Doing it all? Grandparents, childcare and employment: An analysis of British Social
Attitudes Survey Data from 1998 and 2009. London: Grandparents Plus.
Across the European
grandparents who are
younger, with higher
educational levels, in better
health, and whose youngest
grandchild is under age six
are more likely to provide
In countries with higher
percentages of older
women in paid work there
is less involvement of
grandmothers in intensive
2 / Grandparenting in Europe
In countries such as Sweden and Denmark (and to a lesser extent, France), parents
are expected to work full time, formal childcare is widely available, and there is
generous maternity pay and support for mothers who stay home. In these countries
grandmothers play a far more limited role in providing intensive childcare, but
are still signicantly involved in providing occasional and less intensive care for
In Portugal, Spain, Italy and Romania, where welfare payments to parents
and mothers at home are limited and there is little formal childcare and few
opportunities for mothers to work part-time, grandparents provide a great deal of
intensive childcare for their grandchildren. Moreover, in these countries, mothers
who do work often do so for 40 plus hours a week, and since there is little affordable
formal childcare, there is greater reliance on intensive care by grandmothers. With
the exception of Romania, in these countries there is less of a role for grandparents
providing occasional or less intensive care without the parents present.
In the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, public support for families is varied
but less universal, and childcare coverage is patchy and often provided by the
market rather than the state, and the norm is that women work part-time. Here,
grandparents generally play a middling role in both intensive childcare and
occasional/less intensive childcare. In these countries, a smaller proportion of those
mothers in full-time work do so for long hours, leading to less reliance on intensive
childcare by grandmothers. In the Netherlands, which has by far the highest
proportion of mothers working part-time and very few mothers working full-time,
and where formal childcare is widespread, there is very little intensive childcare by
In general, countries with the lowest usage of formal childcare, Hungary, Portugal
and Romania, have the highest percentages of grandmothers caring intensively for
their grandchildren, and countries with the highest usage, Sweden and Denmark,
have the lowest percentages of grandmothers providing intensive childcare.
In countries with higher percentages of older women in paid work there is less
involvement of grandmothers in intensive childcare.
Given that grandmothers aged 50 to 69 who are not in paid work are the most likely
to provide childcare, the plans of European governments to extend retirement ages
and increase female labour force participation at older ages are likely to conict
with grandparents’ role in providing childcare. This will have signicant implications
for labour market participation by younger mothers, and for pension acquisition and
the nancial security of mid-life women.
Grandparenting in Europe / 3
The study looks at trends over time in the prevalence of adults living in grandparent
households (both three generation and households with the parents’ generation
absent) in England and Wales, France, West Germany, Romania and Portugal.
In England and Wales, France and West Germany there has been a decline in the
percentage of adults aged 35 plus living in three generation households. In England
this declined from 3.3% in 1981 to 1.5% in 2001, the latest period for which data is
available. In Romania, and also the US, there has been an increase over the same
In England and Wales, like the US, there has been an increase in skipped generation
households, from 0.25% of adults over 35 living in such households in 1981 to
0.42% in 2001. This most likely reects the increase in kinship care (wider family
members raising children) identied by Nandy and Selwyn’s analysis of Census
Both three generation and skipped generation grandparent households are
associated with poverty and socio economic disadvantage in all the countries
Adults living in grandparent households are more likely to be women, divorced,
widowed or separated, with lower educational levels, and economically inactive, and
this is particularly marked for those in skipped generation grandparent households.
4 Nandy, S., Selwyn, J., Farmer, E. and Vaisey, P. (2011) Spotlight on kinship care: Using Census microdata
to examine the extent and nature of kinship care in the U.K., London: University of Bristol.
Grandparent-headed households: three generation
and skipped generation households
In England and Wales,
France and West Germany
there has been a decline in
the percentage of adults
aged 35 plus living in three
In England and Wales, like
the US, there has been
an increase in skipped
generation households, from
0.25% of adults over 35
living in such households in
1981 to 0.42% in 2001.
4 / Grandparenting in Europe
5 11 SHARE countries plus England
The study looks at the characteristics of grandparents aged 50 and over from the
England and France –
Denmark and Sweden (Scandinavia) –
Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Switzerland (Western Europe) –
Spain, Italy and Greece (Southern Europe) –
Percentage of older adults who are grandparents
In all 125 European countries studied, the majority of women over 50 are
grandmothers, ranging from 72% in Denmark to 53% in Switzerland. In most
countries the majority of men over 50 are grandfathers, ranging from 62% in
Belgium to 42% in Greece. In England 67% of women over 50 are grandmothers
and 58% of men over 50 are grandfathers.
Overall the highest percentage of older adults who are grandparents are in
Scandinavia and Belgium, followed by England and France, and the lowest are in
Southern Europe. Higher rates of grandparents in Scandinavia and Belgium are
likely to reect both higher fertility among adult children and younger ages at
Age, gender and marital status of grandparents
The youngest grandparents are in Denmark (mean age 67) and the oldest are in
Greece (mean age 70). The highest percentage of working aged grandparents
(50 to 64) are in Scandinavia, with Denmark at 50%. The lowest percentages are
in Southern Europe, with around a third aged 50 to 64 in Spain and Italy. The
percentage of working-aged grandparents is relatively high in England (41%).
Table 1 Mean age of grandmothers and grandfathers by country
EN FR DK SE DE NL BE AT CH ES IT GR
Grandfathers 67.5 67 66.1 67.4 67.7 67.2 67.5 66 68.7 69.5 69.3 71.1
Grandmothers 68.3 68.2 66.8 68.4 68.2 67.9 68.8 67.8 69.8 69.6 69.4 69.6
Grandparents 67.9 67.8 66.5 68 68.3 67.6 68.3 67.1 69.4 69.5 69.3 70.2
In all countries the majority of grandparents are women, ranging from 56% in
Sweden and 57% in England to 61% in Greece.
Marital status as well as age and gender is likely to be a factor in whether
grandparents provide childcare. The highest percentage of still married
grandparents are in the Netherlands, at 70%, with 69% in England. Grandmothers
are more than likely than grandfathers to be widowed in all countries.
Grandparent characteristics in 12 European countries
Source: SHARE, 2004/05; ELSA, 2002/03; own calculations. Weighted data for mean values.
Overall the highest
percentage of older adults
who are grandparents are in
Scandinavia and Belgium,
followed by England and
France, and the lowest are in
In all countries the majority
of grandparents are women
Grandparenting in Europe / 5
Children and grandchildren
Even though in the Netherlands and Spain, grandparents have more children (a
mean of almost 3.0) compared with 2.7 in England, English grandparents have
the most grandchildren – an average of 4.9 compared with 4.2 across the other
countries studied. The lowest numbers of grandchildren are in Germany and Austria
(3.7) and Greece (3.8). English grandmothers have on average 5.2 grandchildren,
and English grandfathers have 4.6 grandchildren, more than in any other country.
Grandparental involvement in children’s lives is likely to depend on the number
of grandchildren, and also their age. Among the European countries studied, over
half of grandparents have at least one grandchild under the age of six. In the
Netherlands, 40% of grandparents have a grandchild under age three, compared
with just 18% in Austria.
Sandwich generation grandparents
Grandparents in the Scandinavian countries and France show the highest
percentages who are in the sandwich generation with at least one of their own
parents still alive, at around 22%. The lowest is in Italy (12%). Relatively fewer
grandparents in England are in the sandwich generation (15%). Our analysis
includes all grandparents, not just those with grandchildren under the age of 16.
Among these grandparents, as the BSA survey analysis shows, the percentage of
grandparents with their own parents is much higher at 28%.3
Education, economic activity and wealth
There is a wide range of educational levels across Europe, with over 80% of
grandparents reporting a low educational level in Southern European countries
compared with just 25% in Germany. On average across the 11 countries in SHARE,
59% report a low educational level (56% in England), 28% a middle level (28% in
England) and 13% a high educational level (16% in England).
Only in Sweden do grandmothers report higher levels of education than
grandfathers. There is also wide variation in the percentage of grandparents in paid
work, from 29% in the Scandinavian countries to 9% in Italy. Almost one in four
(23%) of English grandparents are in paid work, compared with the average across
the 11 countries in SHARE of one in seven.
English grandparents have
the most grandchildren – an
average of 4.9 compared
with 4.2 across the other
Only in Sweden do
grandmothers report higher
levels of education than
Almost one in four (23%) of
English grandparents are in
paid work, compared with
the average across the 11
countries in SHARE of one in
6 / Grandparenting in Europe
Figure 1 Economic status of grandparents, by gender and country
Across Europe grandmothers are poorer than grandfathers, in part reecting the
fact that grandmothers tend to be older and are more likely to be widowed than
grandfathers. The percentage of grandmothers who are in the poorest 20% of
the wealth distribution for people over 50 ranges from 23% in Denmark to 32%
in Germany, while for grandfathers those in the poorest 20% ranges from 16% in
France to 24% in Italy.
Health and wellbeing
There is a wide range in the percentage of grandparents across the countries
studied reporting their health as fair or poor, from just 12% of grandfathers and 16%
of grandmothers in Sweden, to 45% of grandfathers and 48% of grandmothers in
Germany. English grandparents rate their health better in comparison to the average
across the 11 countries in SHARE, with 31% of grandfathers rating their health as
fair or poor compared with the average of 38%. 30% of English grandmothers rate
their health as fair or poor compared with the average of 44%.
English grandparents, along with those from Denmark, are least likely to report
four or more depressive symptoms (18%) while Spanish, French and Italian
grandmothers report particularly high levels (over 40%).
However, with almost one in four reporting one or more limitation, compared with
12% of grandmothers and 14% of grandfathers elsewhere.
Grandparents across Europe tend to have poorer rates of cognitive function than
over 50s who are not grandparents, reecting the fact that they tend to be older.
After taking age into account, differences between countries in grandparents’
cognitive function are small.
Source: SHARE, 2004/05; ELSA, 2002/03; own calculations. Weighted Data
retired paid work other
Across Europe grandmothers
are poorer than grandfathers
English grandparents, along
with those from Denmark,
are least likely to report
four or more depressive
English grandparents have
the highest levels of health
or disability-related limitation
in activities in daily living
across the study
Grandparenting in Europe / 7
The research shows a high level of grandparental involvement in childcare
across Europe. 44% of grandparents in the SHARE countries have looked after
a grandchild without the presence of the parents in the last 12 months. The
highest incidence of grandparents providing any childcare is in the Netherlands
and Denmark, with around 57% of grandparents looking after a grandchild in the
past 12 months, and the lowest rates are in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the
Southern European countries, at around 40%.
In Britain, the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey shows that 63% of grandparents
with grandchildren under 16 reported that they had ever looked after a grandchild
in the last 12 months,3 compared with 50% elsewhere in Europe who had provided
some type of care for a grandchild under 16 without the parents present.6
11% of grandparents across the 11 countries in SHARE provided daily or almost
daily care, ranging from 20% in Italy and Greece to 2% or lower in the Scandinavian
countries and the Netherlands.
The BSA survey shows that 19% of grandmothers and 14% of grandfathers in
Britain with grandchildren under 16 reported providing 10 hours a week or more of
childcare for one or more of their grandchildren.3 6% of all grandparents in Britain
with a grandchild of any age looked after a grandchild in the past week, averaging
30 hours a week.
6 Hank, K. & Buber, I. 2009. Grandparents caring for their grandchildren ndings from the 2004
Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe. Journal of Family Issues, 30, 53-73.
Percentage of grandmothers
providing any care for
Percentage of grandmothers
providing intensive care for
Sweden 51 2
the Netherlands 57 2
Denmark 59 2
France 51 7
Germany 40 8
Portugal - 14d
Spain 42 17
Italy 42 22
Source: Data from SHARE, BSASa, ELSAb (England), GGSc [Romania, Hungary],d ESS Portugal]
BSAS gure is for grandparents with grandchildren under 16.
Table 2 Percentages of grandmothers providing care for grandchildren
The research shows a high
level of grandparental
involvement in childcare
across Europe. 44% of
grandparents in the SHARE
countries have looked after
a grandchild without the
presence of the parents in
the last 12 months.
the British Social Attitudes
(BSA) survey shows that
63% of grandparents with
grandchildren under 16
reported that they had ever
looked after a grandchild in
the last 12 months,3
11% of grandparents across
the 11 countries in SHARE
provided daily or almost
8 / Grandparenting in Europe
Who are the grandparents providing childcare?
The analysis found that grandparents providing childcare are likely to be female,
younger, with a partner, with a higher educational level and in higher wealth
quintiles, and with better health and younger grandchildren. Overall, grandchild care
is associated with socio economic advantage and being younger.
Which parents are more likely to receive childcare from a grandparent?
Parents7 in northern European countries are more likely to have a child looked
after by grandparents than those in Austria, Switzerland and southern European
However, for regular childcare the situation is the reverse: parents7 in Scandinavian
countries are least likely to have their children regularly looked after by
grandparents, while parents7 in Italy, Greece and Belgium are most likely to have
children looked after regularly.
Mothers,7 especially those who have never been married, are more likely to have a
child looked after by grandparents. The younger the parent7 the more likely it is that
their child is looked after regularly by grandparents.
Parents7 whose youngest child is under six are more likely to have a child looked
after by a grandparent. Overall, 55% of parents7 whose youngest child is aged
between nought and two receive grandparent care for their children, 59% of those
whose youngest child is aged three to ve, and 48% of those whose youngest child
is aged six to 11. Only 11% of parents7 whose child is aged 12 or older receive
grandparent childcare. Parents7 who live closer to grandparents are more likely to
have their child looked after by a grandparent. 38% of parents7 who live within ve
kilometres of a child’s grandparent received grandparent childcare, compared with
20% of those who live more than 100 km away.
Overall a higher percentage of mothers7 who work part-time have a child looked
after by a grandparent than those who work full-time. However the pattern varies
For mothers, 7 overall a higher percentage of those in paid work receive
grandparental childcare compared with those who are not in paid work, however
the reverse is true for mothers7 in Scandinavia where those who are not in paid
work receive more help from grandparents than those who are.
7 Please note that we do not have a representative sample of parents in SHARE. What we do have are the
selected characteristics of up to 4 adult children given to us by the older person. We know which of the
up to adult children the older person identies as being a parent and we also know whether these parents
have been identied (that is by their older mother or father) as being given grandchildcare.
The analysis found that
childcare are likely to be
female, younger, with a
partner, with a higher
educational level and in
higher wealth quintiles,
and with better health and
Grandparenting in Europe / 9
The report considers the extent to which differences in the ways that grandparents
care for grandchildren across Europe might be accounted for by differences in
family and childcare policy, as well as related work and childcare settings and
cultural attitudes. Countries differ markedly in the extent to which women and
mothers participate in paid labour and the extent to which people have access
to and use formal childcare. Cultural factors also shape different preferences and
norms for childcare, with variation across Europe in beliefs about what is best for
families and children.
This element of the research focuses on care by grandmothers, since grandfathers
rarely provide childcare in the absence of parents without grandmothers present.
Outcomes are examined in eleven countries, selected for this analysis to provide
clear examples of countries with different policy environments, labour market and
childcare structures and varying family, care and work cultures: Denmark, France,
Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden and
the United Kingdom.
Across Europe there is increased participation in the labour market by women
and mothers, with all countries providing some support for leave from paid work
and childcare. Nevertheless, signicant gender differences remain. Unstable and
inexible labour markets, and underfunded or fragmented childcare, push mothers
to nd alternative forms of care, or to leave paid work or work fewer hours in order
to care for their children.
We have developed a framework for cross-country data analysis to examine
the relationships between family and care policy and outcomes, labour market
structures and participation (especially of mothers), and family and gender
cultures. The objective is to analyse political, cultural and employment settings
in different countries that help explain the level and intensity of grandmaternal
childcare. Across the three spheres of ‘policies’, ‘labour markets’ and ‘family and
gender cultures’ we explored a raft of approximately 250 indicators for each of
the eleven countries on all kinds of parental and non parental leave, cash benets,
childcare and elder care and retirement policies, as well as data on female labour
market participation and attitudinal data. We classify policies according to the
extent to which the state encourages or assumes a role for grandparents. We
used a qualitative constant comparative method suggested by existing theoretical
understanding of family policy and labour markets to examine which variables
(indicators) were associated with each other and how, and how these associations
and interactions varied between countries. We then used this analysis to cluster
our countries according to similarities and differences between them on these
indicators, and in the ways that these indicators were associated with each other.
We then considered these clusters in detail, narrowing down our variables to those
that seemed most important in explaining how and why grandparental care varied
from country to country.
Family policy and patterns of grandparenting
10 / Grandparenting in Europe
Findings from the policy analysis
Our analysis indicates that there is a close relationship between the family and
care policy context and the likelihood that grandmothers are providing intensive
childcare. In terms of constellations of policies, we found that our countries
clustered into three groups. In the rst group, exemplied by Sweden and Denmark,
the Scandinavian countries, and to a lesser extent, France, the State organises and
provides childcare, there is no assumption that grandparents will provide care, and all
transfers and benets are available only for parents. In these countries where both
parents expect to work full-time, formal childcare is well-provided and there are
good maternal benets, fewer grandmothers provide intensive childcare.
In the second group, there is an assumption that grandparents will provide care – the
Southern and Eastern European countries studied fall into this group. In Hungary,
Portugal and Spain, this assumption is explicit, but Italy and Romania are also
considered part of this group since policy vacuums leave a childcare gap that in
practice can only be lled by grandparents – the assumption they will provide care
is implicit. In these countries there are few part-time jobs, limited formal childcare
and only limited in-kind family benets, and more grandmothers provide intensive
In a third group of countries, public support is varied but less universal, childcare
coverage is patchy and provided more by the market than the state, and women
are more likely to work part-time. Here grandparents have a middling role in both
intensive childcare and occasional/less intensive childcare. The UK, Germany and
the Netherlands are examples of these countries, although the Netherlands, for the
reasons given below, has very low percentages of grandmothers providing intensive
The family and care policy environments are however only one part of the picture.
The pattern of female labour force participation in a country is associated with
childcare by grandmothers, independently of the policy context. Long working
hours for mothers and little formal childcare mean more grandmothers providing
intensive childcare. In countries where a high percentage of mothers with young
children do not work, those mothers who do work are particularly reliant on
intensive grandmother care. Also, lower labour force participation among women
aged 50 to 64 is associated with more intensive grandmother care.
Use of formal childcare for young children is inversely related to intensive childcare
by grandmothers. Furthermore, in those countries where maternal care for pre-
school children is the preferred norm, childcare patterns suggest that grandmothers
are regarded as the best care substitute for those mothers who work in the paid
Grandparenting in Europe / 11
We used a wide variety of multivariate techniques as appropriate to investigate
which individual and country level characteristics are related to grandchild care.
Such analyses have several advantages. They permit us to explore the relationship
of each characteristic in relation to grandchild care while taking into account
the potentially confounding inuence of other characteristics. For example, in
our descriptive analyses we found signicant differences in the percentage of
grandparents in paid work across countries. Such differences may help to explain
variations in grandchild care. However, we also know that this is confounded with
age, that is an older grandparent is less likely to be in paid work. Thus we need to
know whether it is being in paid work or age (or both) that is driving the relationship
to grandchild care. Our presentation of analyses in the following sections considers
these questions with respect to all of the characteristics discussed so far.
Intensive, non-intensive and no childcare provision
First, we present our ndings for the three types of grandchild care simultaneously,
that is intensive grandchild care, non-intensive grandchild care, and no grandchild
care.8 This is because we want to understand the relative importance of grandparent
characteristics for each level of care and how they relate to each other. We used a
generalised ordinal logit model (in our case with partial proportional odds).
Multivariate analysis shows that grandparents most likely to provide any (intensive
and non-intensive) childcare are female, young, married, retired, and in the higher
wealth quintiles. Married grandparents are more than one and half times as likely
to provide any childcare as unmarried (i.e. never-married, widowed or divorced)
grandparents. Grandparents with lower levels of education are signicantly less
likely to provide any childcare; however, they are more likely than those with high
educational levels to provide intensive childcare.
Grandparents with several grandchildren are signicantly more likely to provide any
childcare than those with just one grandchild, but having more than one grandchild
is not signicantly associated with providing intensive childcare. Grandparents with
a youngest grandchild between the ages of three and ve (in comparison to ages
one to two) are the most likely to be providing any childcare. Grandparents whose
youngest grandchild is aged over six are signicantly less likely to be providing care
in comparison to grandparents with a youngest grandchild between ages one and
Grandparents with better cognitive function are more likely to provide any type of
childcare, but the effect is greater for more intensive care. A similar pattern is found
when severity of health or disability related functional limitations are considered.
8 England/Britain is excluded from this analysis due to a lack of comparable data.
Finding from the multivariate analysis:
Grandparental characteristics associated with childcare
12 / Grandparenting in Europe
We used our model to examine whether different policy environments still retain
some explanatory power once we have taken into account the extent to which
the personal characteristics of grandparents differ across countries. Multivariate
analysis shows that even when we account for the widely varying characteristics of
grandparents across Europe, different national policy contexts are still associated
with different levels of grandparent childcare. For example, Danish and Swedish
grandparents (which fall into our category of countries where no grandparental
care is assumed by the policy context) are signicantly more likely to provide some
childcare but signicantly less likely to provide intensive childcare than those
countries with more neutral policy regimes towards grandparental care such as
Grandparents in countries that fall into our category of having policy contexts that
assume grandparental care, (e.g. Spain, Italy and Greece) are less likely to provide
some grandparent childcare but more likely to provide intensive grandparent care
than countries with more neutral policy regimes like Germany.
Grandparents in the countries where the policy context is relatively neutral toward
grandparents, (i.e. Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium) fall into a
middle group when considering the provision of intensive childcare – providing
more than in the Scandinavian countries but less likely to provide intensive care
than those countries where policy assumes a grandparental role. In the provision of
any care, there is a much more even picture across all the countries studied, with
grandparents quite similar across the SHARE countries in providing at least some
care for their grandchildren. However, this analysis does show that Germany and
Austria are similar to Italy and Spain, with a lower likelihood that grandparents will
provide some care, while grandparents in the Netherlands and Belgium have the
highest likelihood of grandparents helping out with care at least some of the time.
Intensive childcare provision
Multivariate logistic regression analysis was conducted to explore which
grandparental characteristics are associated with intensive grandparental care – i.e.
daily or at least 30 hours a week of care. Characteristics considered were gender,
age, marital, employment and health status and number of grandchildren.
Grandmothers are one and a half times more likely to provide intensive childcare
than grandfathers. Younger grandparents, and those who are married or cohabiting
are also more likely to be providing intensive childcare.
Grandparents with lower educational levels and retired grandparents are more likely
to provide intensive childcare. Retired grandparents are one and a half times more
likely to provide intensive childcare than those grandparents in paid work (even
taking age into account). Wealth and number of grandchildren are not signicantly
associated with providing intensive childcare.
Among the various health indicators considered, functional limitations and cognitive
function are signicantly (and negatively) associated with the provision of intensive
grandchild care. Grandparents without health or disability related limitations are
almost twice as likely as those with such conditions to be providing intensive
childcare. However there is no signicant relationship between self-rated health and
providing intensive childcare.
Grandmothers are one and
a half times more likely to
provide intensive childcare
than grandfathers. Younger
grandparents, and those who
are married or cohabiting
are also more likely to be
providing intensive childcare.
health or disability related
limitations are almost twice
as likely as those with such
conditions to be providing
Grandparenting in Europe / 13
Our policy context classications help us to a large extent to understand the
hierarchy of countries when considering the extent to which grandparents provide
intensive childcare for their grandchildren, even after taking account of other
differences in grandparents’ characteristics across countries. Grandparents in
Sweden and Denmark (in our classication of countries where policies assume no
grandparental care), for example, were only around half as likely as grandparents
in England to provide intensive childcare. The Netherlands, England, Switzerland,
and France are quite similar to each other in the provision of intensive care, with
the likelihood of grandparents providing intensive childcare about twice as high in
Germany, Austria and Belgium than in England. These middle countries, with the
exception of France, are all classied into our middle group of neutral countries.
Spain, Italy and Greece stand out however as having much higher likelihood of
grandparents providing intensive care – three to ve times higher than in England,
countries where policies assume grandparental care.
Multilevel analyses taking country indicators into account
So far, analyses above considered the different policy contexts and their relationship
to different levels of grandparent care. In this model we examined whether it is the
policy context or the cultural and institutional factors which these contexts produce
and reect that has more explanatory power in explaining variation in grandparental
childcare, again taking into account the variation in individual characteristics of
grandparents across Europe. We nd that considering the policy context groupings
does get us a long way in understanding grandparental care, but we can explain
even more of the variation when we look at the extent to which differences in the
cultural-contextual factors across European countries are related to grandparent
childcare (while still taking grandparent characteristics into account). We use
multilevel logistic regression models to look at intensive grandparent care taking
four key country-level variables into account: the percentage of mothers aged 25-49
who are not in paid employment and the percentage of women aged 50-64 in paid
work, capturing the two-generation structure of the labour market; the percentage
of individuals who strongly agree with the statement that “pre-school children
suffer with a working mother” capturing societal attitudes towards care and gender;
nally, the percentage of children under the age of three who are enrolled in formal
childcare, used as an indicator of the use of formal childcare.
These models show that policies and cultural-structural factors all shape the
extent to which grandparents provide intensive childcare in European countries.
In particular, certain country characteristics seem to provide arrangements in
which grandparents are more likely to engage intensively in providing intensive
childcare, even when all the variation in grandparents’ characteristics is taken
into account. The extent to which mothers in a country are not in the paid labour
force is associated with the degree of policy focus on providing formal, affordable
childcare, particularly for very young children. Similarly, in countries where mothers
are expected to stay at home to care for their families there is also a belief that
pre-school children would suffer with working mothers. In such ‘pro family care’
countries, opportunities for young mothers (aged 25 to 49) to work exible hours
also tend to be limited; mothers who do work in countries where the normative
expectation is to stay at home to care for their families tend to work full-time.
Hence, mothers who work in such countries need the co-operation of grandparents,
and grandmothers in particular. However, the availability of grandmothers to offer
such help is reduced in countries where employment rates for women 50 to 64 are
Our analysis indicates that across Europe grandparents are playing a major role in
providing childcare for grandchildren.
14 / Grandparenting in Europe
We have found that in countries where formal childcare is limited and benets for
families and stay at home mothers are not generous, grandparents are providing
intensive levels of childcare. In Italy and Greece, for example, almost a quarter of
grandparents look after their grandchildren without the parents there for around
30 hours a week, and more than one in ve grandmothers is providing almost daily
care. In these countries there are fewer opportunities for mothers to work part-time,
and those mothers who are in work tend to work full-time.
On the other hand in countries where there is extensive provision of formal
childcare, generous maternity and family benets and support for stay at home
mothers, grandparents are much less likely to be providing intensive childcare, but
much more likely to be providing occasional care without the parents present.
In France, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands up to 60% of grandparents
provide some childcare, and in Britain the gure is 63% for those with a grandchild
under 16. In these countries mothers are much more likely to be working, and
grandparents are acting as a ‘reserve army’ of care. In many instances grandparents
are likely to be providing care to support working mothers, for example during
school holidays and when children are ill and in other family emergencies, or
providing less intensive regular childcare to complement formal childcare.
Across all countries our analysis shows that grandparents who provide childcare
tend to be younger, healthier, married and to have higher educational levels,
and also to classify themselves as retired. These are the very women who
governments across Europe are seeking to keep longer in the labour market to
grow our economies in response to ageing populations, with fewer younger workers
entering the labour market and increased life expectancy. This conict between
grandmothers’ role in providing childcare and increased participation in paid work
both to protect their own retirement incomes and increase productivity has major
implications for the future paid employment of mothers of young children, as well
as for their own nancial security in later life.
As our populations age the role of grandparents in family life is likely to become
even more signicant. Already, 17% of grandparents across Europe are in the
sandwich generation, with their own parents still alive. As life expectancy increases
further, this percentage is likely to increase. Younger grandparents, who are most
likely to have younger children and grandchildren, are of course more likely to still
have a parent alive. In Britain, 28% of grandparents with a grandchild under 16 have
a parent still alive, six in 10 are still working and nearly eight in 10 are providing
some care for grandchildren.3 This group of grandparents is already under pressure
to provide work and care up and down the generations. Austerity programmes
leading to cuts in provision for both eldercare and childcare risk putting yet more
pressure on these younger grandparents. Policymakers need to consider the
implications for the future nancial security of this mid-life generation, as well
as the implications of work, care and retirement policies for those in mid-life on
younger working parents.
When we consider the experiences of other countries in Europe, it is clear that the
UK faces a stark choice. We can either prioritise grandmothers remaining in the
labour market for longer, supporting their own retirement, but acknowledge over
time this is likely to create a care gap for working parents, largely impacting on
mothers’ employment; or we can invest in universal, affordable formal childcare
which will meet, at least in part, that emerging childcare gap and retain both older
women and working mothers in the labour market. A third, and arguably the least
attractive option would be to decide to reverse the trend for working longer and rely
heavily on our ageing population to provide the childcare. Doing so would create an
even bigger pensions and care funding gap for older generations and would quickly
prove to be unsustainable.
Grandparenting in Europe / 15
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16 / Grandparenting in Europe
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