Approximately one billion people in the world’s population are grandparents. As people live longer, healthier lives, grandparenting has become more and more common and the role of grandparents has become increasingly important worldwide. Grandparenthood and grandchild care provision significantly affect grandparents’ health and wellbeing. On the positive side, becoming a grandparent brings opportunities to interact with the younger generation and can provide a new sense of purpose and pride. Becoming a grandparent can be beneficial for grandparents’ subjective well-being and protective against depressive symptoms, and research shows it can prevent Alzheimer’s disease. However, grandparenting can also contribute to intergenerational conflicts and stress, and increase how old the grandparent feels.
Grandparenting is characterised by both cultural and individual variations. Recent research has shown that the impact of grandparenting on people’s health varies by country. For example, it was found that in countries with traditional familistic culture, where family is embedded as a central part of how society is organised, providing care for grandchildren fulfils cultural expectations and therefore improves the quality of life among grandparents. The gender of the grandparent also matters. In Europe, becoming a grandmother reduced the number of depressive symptoms one reported, but such relationship was not found among grandfathers. Understanding the complex impact of grandparenting on individuals’ health contributes to the global strategy of promoting active ageing.
In this study we examine the cross-national differences in the effect of grandparenting on older persons’ depression in England, Europe and China. We look to understand the importance of the national economy, the grandparents’ gender, and the provision of grandchild care in terms of the grandparents’ wellbeing. Our findings are highlighted below.
The national economy
- Becoming a grandparent can lessen the effect of depressive symptoms on grandparents in lower income countries (measured by the mean income of individuals in a country).
- Conversely, in higher income countries, becoming a grandparent can worsen depressive symptoms for grandparents.
- In all countries, women had higher depression scores than men.
- The gender gap in the effect of becoming a grandparent on one’s depression was wider in lower income countries (China, Italy, Spain, Czech Republic and Estonia) than higher income countries (Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, France and England).
Providing grandchild care
- The effect of providing care for grandchildren on the grandparents’ depression varied by country and according to the intensity of the care provided.
- Grandparents providing non-intensive grandchild care (less than 30 hours per week) were less likely to report depressive symptoms compared to those who did not provide any care in China, Sweden and Denmark.
- Grandfathers and grandmothers who provided intensive care (more than 30 hours per week) in Italy were less likely to have depressive symptoms, compared to grandparents who did not provide any grandchild care.
Having healthy grandparents is of great importance in the context of rapid population ageing. With policy reforms aimed at increasing the pension age being implemented worldwide, the stress resulting from becoming a grandparent and caring for grandchildren whilst working could increase if people retire at an older age. Policy decisionmakers need to be aware of the increasing importance of grandparents in providing childcare for their grandchildren. Family and other policies involving older people need to take into account the impact of grandparenting on the grandparents’ health. Higher income countries in particular should investigate policy instruments that might buffer the negative impact of transitioning to grandparenthood. Particular attention should be devoted to grandmothers, who are more likely than grandfathers to experience depression when transitioning to grandparenthood.