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Max Planck Institute publishes two studies on grandparenting in Europe


The role of grandparents in child care is a key issue for family policy in confronting demographic change in Europe today, given its importance for parents who participate in the labour market. The two studies presented here, recently published by the Max Planck Institute, analyse data from pan-European surveys to investigate the importance of values and norms in determining the role played by grandparents in providing childcare on the one hand, and the impact of available grandparental support on young mothers’ labour market participation on the other.

As the labour market participation of women is increasing, so is the demand for child care. The EU in 2002 set the “Barcelona Summit” targets Choose translations of the previous link  for the availability of childcare institutions to 33% for children below 3 years and 90% for children from age 3 to school age. However, the availability of public, formal childcare varies largely between countries. Currently in the EU15 countries enrolment rates in childcare facilities for children below age 3 vary between 3% (Greece) to over 60% (Denmark).

As to informal child care, grandparents are by far the most important childcare providers throughout Europe. Their role in providing support to young parents therefore has an important impact on the realisation of the goals of European employment policy.

grandparents with baby, and their role in childcare, © Istock

Regional family norms and child care by grandparents in Europe

This study by Arnstein Aassve, Bruno Arpino and Alice Goisis uses data from 23 countries in the second wave of the European Social survey to investigate whether cultural factors, especially family practices and norms also play a role in European international variations in child care practices, and more specifically the use of grandparental child care.
Boosting the labour market participation of women in general and mothers in particular, is at the core of EU employment policy with a logical corollary of increased demand for child care. (Jappens and van Bavel cit., p 29). However, there are considerable international differences in child care practices throughout Europe. At the same time, some regions hold a considerable resistance to the idea that a mother with young children should go out to work.
The study found that European patterns of child care use are not only subject to structural factors, such as the supply of formal care provisions for children. Preferences and attitudes, such as the level of conservatism that characterises the region, have an important impact on parents’ ability to use childcare services. Mothers in more conservative regions (mainly found in Southern and Eastern Europe, but presenting a large variance between countries) were found to be more inclined to use grandparents as the main source of child care instead of formal alternatives. Furthermore, grandparents were found to be more often considered to be the main source of child care in cases where mothers are younger, not in paid work and achieved a lower level of education.
European mothers’ reliance on grandparental child care therefore was found to be influenced by individual characteristics and the availability of formal child care, but also by the normative climate in the region they live in.

Grandparenting and mothers’ labour force participation: A comparative analysis using the generations and gender survey

The role of grandparents is an important element in the efforts of families who try to reconcile work and family. This study by Maaike Jappens and Jan Van Bavel focuses on the complex relationship between labour supply decisions and informal, grandparental childcare, based on data from the Generations and Gender Survey (GGS) for seven countries (Bulgaria, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Russia).
The in-depth analysis of national scenarios finds a high heterogeneity across countries in terms of offered services, leave policies, and the burden left to families. Moreover, there are no clear patterns of clustering that are consistent with the traditional Esping-Andersen typology of countries with regard to intergenerational support policies.
The study finds that mothers’ employment is positively and significantly associated with grandparents providing childcare only in some countries. Receiving childcare help from grandparents has a positive and significant impact on the mother’s labour supply decision for instance in France, Germany, Bulgaria, and Hungary, but much less in the other three countries.
The authors conclude that, in addition to being a function of the social and institutional context of a country, provision of grandparental childcare also depends on family preferences and the share of modern and tradition values between generations, an important aspect to be taken into account when studying intergenerational transfers of time spent on childcare.