Grandparents caring for grandchildren: Impacts on health and wellbeing
Our project focuses on a previously neglected area of research: how does providing care for grandchildren impact on the health and wellbeing of grandparents?
Promoting the health and wellbeing of older people is a critical policy issue as the population ages. Social, economic and demographic changes across Europe point to an increasing role for grandparents in providing childcare support to families. Despite competing pressures on older workers to remain in the workforce for longer and to provide care to frail family members, there are additional pressures on grandparents to provide childcare, linked to more mothers in the paid workforce, increases in rates of family breakdown and single motherhood, and financial pressures on families. Grandparents’ vital economic and social role in providing childcare is largely overlooked or taken for granted by policymakers, and the health impacts on older people of taking on these childcare roles are not known.
This issue affects millions of people. There are nearly 14 million grandparents in the UK, many of working age: 16% are under 55, and 44 per cent are under 65. In Britain, 17% of grandparents with a grandchild under 16 provide at least ten hours of childcare a week and around one in thirty provides full time care to, or lives with a grandchild. Previous research indicates those grandparents who have taken on the fulltime responsibility of bringing up a grandchild (kinship care) are often among the most disadvantaged and in the poorest health. However, it is not known whether or to what extent this is due to cumulative disadvantages throughout the life course or to the impact of grandchild care in itself.
In this study we are seeking a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms and causal pathways between grandchild care and grandparent health. Using the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) we will examine the long-term social, health and economic determinants of grandparents’ current health and wellbeing status, focusing on the intervening role of grandchild care. We will focus on understanding how cumulative advantage and disadvantage interacts with grandchild care to affect grandparent health and wellbeing. Using the life history information collected we will be able to explore the relationship between different life experiences and grandparents’ current health and wellbeing. For example, we will be able to capture lifetime experiences such as time spent in institutional care as children, with single parents, periods of poor health as children and with ill-health and disability as adults, periods of unemployment, experiences of divorce, widowhood and single parenthood, periods of partner’s ill health/disability, and frequent house moves. This analysis will provide us with a better understanding of the cumulative impact of life course trajectories on health outcomes among grandparents. We will also explore how variations over time in grandparent childcare and other socio-economic and demographic factors affect grandparents’ own health and wellbeing.
Understanding the health and wellbeing impact of engagement in childcare on older people will provide important evidence to enable policy makers across Europe to ensure that the role of grandparents in children’s lives is better supported and any deleterious effects on health are minimised.
The methodology we are using is a multivariate longitudinal analysis based on the Survey for Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). We are funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
Project timetable: Publication of final report in Autumn 2014
For further information about the project, contact:
Sarah Wellard, Policy and Research Manager at Grandparents Plus firstname.lastname@example.org
or Karen Glaser, Reader at the Institute of Gerontology, Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine, King’s College London email@example.com
Institute of Gerontology http://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/departments/sshm/geront/index.aspx
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation http://www.gulbenkian.org.uk/
Beth Johnson Foundation
Our study shows that across Europe grandparents, and grandmothers in particular, are playing a major role in providing care for their grandchildren, with over 40% of grandparents in the 11 European countries studied providing childcare for their grandchildren without the child’s parents present. Younger grandmothers who are fit, 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 is likely to conflict with their own ability to finance their old age. 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.
On 15 March 2013 we hosted a conference at Europe House, Westminster, bringing together an international audience of policy makers and academics to consider the research findings and consult delegates on what policy changes are needed to better support the role grandparents play in family life, as well as in the labour market.
This project is a four year partnership between Grandparents Plus, the Institute of Gerontology at King’s College London, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the Beth Johnson Foundation to explore the role of grandparents within family life across Europe which makes a major contribution to our understanding of the demography of grandparenting and the role grandparents play in family life across Europe.
The objective of the main study was to examine how different ‘grandparent policy regimes’ are related to levels of involvement of grandparents with their grandchildren in the following ten countries:
Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain and the UK.
The study addressed the following questions:
- How do the living arrangements of grandparents vary within and across European countries and how have they changed across time?
- How do the characteristics of grandparents vary across Europe in terms of age, living arrangements, tenure status, 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 vary across Europe in terms of contact, help and care? What characteristics of grandparents help to explain the diversity of arrangements?
- For the ten countries to be examined, how do family policies vary, and how are these variations in policy related to observed diversity in the levels of involvement of grandparents with their grandchildren?
The methodology used combined multivariate analysis of Census data and other international data sets on older people, and policy analysis. The researchers developed a typology of grandparenting to gain theoretical insights into the relationship between public policy and grandparenting roles across the ten countries.
Read the executive summary of the final report Grandparenting in Europe: family policy and grandparents’ role in providing childcare here
Read the full report Grandparenting in Europe: family policy and grandparents’ role in providing childcare here
To buy a hard copy of the full report (£40+p&p), click on the following: Grandparenting in Europe Order Form
For a power point presentation on the final findings, click the following link: Grandparenting in Europe March 2013- FINAL
For a power point presentation on the impact on grandparents of their caring responsibilities, click on the following link: GPlus Policy Seminar Tinker Glaser EU Parliament_15 March 2013
In June 2010 we published the findings of our scoping study which reviewed existing literature on the role of grandparents in Europe and also highlighted key policies likely to be important in shaping the role grandparents play in family life.
Preliminary findings from the study were presented at a seminar on the 28th June 2012 at Europe House, Westminster.
Read the preliminary findings here:
Project timetable: The next stage of the project is an analysis of the impact on grandparents’ health and wellbeing of their caring role, due to be completed in October 2014. This stage of the project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
For further information about the project, contact:
Sarah Wellard, Director of Policy, Research and Communications at Grandparents Plus firstname.lastname@example.org
or Dr Karen Glaser, Reader at the Institute of Gerontology, Kings College London email@example.com
College Institute of Gerontology http://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/departments/sshm/geront/index.aspx
and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation http://www.gulbenkian.org.uk/