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Influence of grandparents’ willingness to care for grandchildren on adult children’s decision to have their first child

Grandparents play a crucial role in childcare as they provide an affordable and flexible option for informal care of grandchildren. The availability to this type of childcare and its impact on the decision to transition from first to second or subsequent births has already been considered in research. Therefore, Roberta Rutigliano from the Population Research Centre at the University of Groningen took a different approach and looked at the impact of grandparents’ willingness, ability and availability to provide childcare on the decision by their adult children to have their first child. 

Rutigliano answered two questions: Under what conditions do parental characteristics influence the adult child's transition into parenthood? How does this relationship differ by groups of countries? Unlike past studies, the author did not just consider grandparents’ characteristics separately, but from a multidimensional perspective. This included characteristics such as physical health, cognitive function and health-related behaviours.

Data was collected from the first two waves of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). A two-step approach was implemented. In the first step, Rutigliano estimated the actual relationship between grandparental characteristics and grandparental childcare provision. In the second step, drawing on a sample of would-be grandparents and using results from the first step, out-of-sample predictions could be made about future grandparental childcare propensity of these would-be grandparents. Support from grandparents was classified as regular (at least once per week) and occasional (less than once per week). Using the family regime typology originally created by Anne H. Gauthier, countries were grouped as either pro-egalitarian (Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden) where gender equality is prioritised and the welfare state provides a high level of assistance to help families achieve work-life balance; pro-traditional (Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland) where family norms are strong, but family policies are not that supportive; and, pro-natalist (Belgium and France) where family policies and norms create a supportive environment for family formation. 

From her findings, Rutigliano confirms that in all three types of countries: 

  • The expectation of receiving occasional grandparental childcare has a positive influence on first birth transition in all countries.
  • The expectation of receiving regular grandparental childcare has a positive influence only for pro-traditional and pro-natalist countries.

These differences highlight the importance of institutional and cultural structures in countries in the influence of grandparents on the transition to having one’s first child.  

Based on existing research and her results, she speculates that the expectation of grandparental support is a very important factor in every context. Nonetheless, childcare systems in place in pro-egalitarian countries have been more effective in supporting fertility than policies that historically just focus on increasing fertility. Families are able to rely on formal childcare and the willingness of grandparents to provide occasional care means there is someone that can step in during unexpected situations. In the pro-natalist and pro-traditional countries, grandparents act as a replacement for the lack of efficient public childcare.

Author(s) of the original publication: 
Emily Lines