In partnership with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, King’s College London Institute of Gerontology and the Beth Johnson Foundation, Grandparents Plus is conducting a major research project on the role of grandparents across ten European states; Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and the United Kingdom (UK). This builds on work as part of an initiative launched by the Foundation in 2008 on ageing and social cohesion.
The report, “Grandparenting in Europe”, was published in June 2010 for Grandparents Plus by the Institute of Gerontology in association with the Beth Johnson Foundation. It is intended to contribute to a better understanding of the impact of demographic ageing on our society which can inform improved policy-making. In addition to the report, a poll of grandparents was carried out. An interim findings report will be launched at the European Parliament Information Office in the UK on the 28th of June 2012. The final project report will be published in the spring of 2013.
Main scoping report and poll findings
The 2010 report is a scoping study, representing the first phase of a broader study. It provides a review of the evidence from academic literature on the role of grandparents in European family life, as well as evidence from the United States (US). Key policies of importance in shaping the role of grandparents are identified. The study reports on the increasingly significant role of grandparents in family life across Europe. A poll was carried out to investigate grandparents’ views on flexible working, grandparent leave and rewarding grandparents who provide significant periods of childcare. 70% of respondents support pay for grandparents who provide significant childcare so that parents can work. 39% of grandparents support the extension of flexible working hours to grandparents providing childcare. In addition, 38% of grandparents support the idea of being able to take designated grandparental leave, similar to parental leave. The second phase of the study, from 2010 to 2013, builds on these findings and aims to explore the picture presented in more detail so as to better respond to the changing reality of grandparenting in Europe. Some key findings from the 2010 report are important across all ten countries, although there are variations in the roles of grandparents across, as well as in policies targeting or affecting grandparenting.
Grandparents’ characteristics and family relationships
As population ages, more parents work, and the incidence of single parent households increases, grandparents are playing an increasingly important role in providing childcare. Besides, they provide significant practical (social) and financial help to their families, especially while they are less than 75 years old. For families with disabled children, various types of grandparental support, especially that of grandmothers, are important and valued by parents. The report suggests that maternal grandmothers in particular, are more likely to provide support when parents separate, easing the negative consequences this may have on both parents and grandchildren. Any negative impacts of divorce on family relationships seem to be greater for men, whether it is the parents who are divorced or the grandparents.
Work, household composition and family members’ well-being
The provision of childcare by grandparents varies greatly across Europe, but grandparents are probably more likely to bridge the gap between formal childcare and parental care in countries where women’s participation in the labour force is high. While there has been a rise in the US in the number of households headed by a grandparent, there is a lack of evidence of this in Europe, even though grandparents in the UK appear more likely to be awarded kinship care of children than other family and friends of the parents. It is found that grandparents’ involvement in children’s lives generally has a positive impact on these children’s well-being. However, childhood obesity has been linked to grandparental obesity, as well as to behavioural influence by grandparents. Evidence of the impact on both grandparents and their families of intensive grandparenting is mixed; whether this impact is positive or negative most likely depends on details such as the age of the grandparents, whether they live with the grandchildren’s parents or not, and the political context in which they live.
Examples of progressive European family policy recognising and rewarding grandparenting
Legislation and social policies do not often recognise grandparents' increasingly important role in families. There are, however, examples of progressive policies in Europe, mainly relating to parental leave allocation. In Germany, the parental leave allowance can be transferred to a grandparent when the parent is unable to provide adequate care for the child. Grandparents are also entitled to paid and unpaid leave to look after their grandchildren in an emergency. In Hungary, allowances and leave are transferable from parents to grandparents. Portuguese grandparents are entitled to financial allowance to support teenage parents and also to care for a sick grandchild, for which they can also take leave. In the UK, grandparents providing childcare for grandchildren under the age of 12 to allow parents to work, accrue National Insurance credits on their basic state pension.