The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of the role that grandparents play in family life in Britain today with a particular focus on demographic change and the grandparental caring contribution for both children and older adults.
Drawing upon a wide range of sources the author sets out the context, recent demographic and economic trends and presents a way forward.
The research presented in this paper suggests that grandparents are playing an increasingly important role in family life and their caring contribution makes a material difference to maternal employment rates in particular. It also suggests that those who step in to the parenting role face particular challenges which need to be addressed.
Further research into the significance of the grandparent/grandchild relationship is needed, together with the caring contribution of those who provide intensive support to families in times of crisis both in terms of the impact that has on the grandparents but also the difference it makes to parents and children.
One key practical implication is the need for a formal childcare infrastructure in the UK which does not assume that grandparents will always be there to provide childcare for working parents on the scale they do today.
Grandparents are living longer so more of them will have longer-lasting relationships with their grandchildren. But mothers are also ageing and so gradually over time the age at which we become grandparents will also be pushed back. This may in turn mean that grandparents in 20 years time may be less involved in childcare in any case.
This piece does not present new research but rather provides an overview of existing evidence.
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