Volume 27 - Article 4 | Pages 85–120  

Regional family cultures and child care by grandparents in Europe

By Maaike Jappens, Jan Van Bavel

This article is part of the Special Collection 11 "Intergenerational family ties in Europe: Multiple linkages between individuals, families and social contexts"


Background: Child care is widely considered a key issue in confronting demographic change in Europe today, given its centrality in the labour market participation of parents, and of mothers in particular. There are considerable international differences in child care practices throughout Europe, and earlier comparative research has indicated that structural factors do not suffice to explain them.

Objective: We investigate whether or not, next to structural differences, cultural factors also play a role in European international variations in child care practices, and more specifically the use of grandparental child care.

Methods: Using the second wave of the European Social Survey, this paper scores subnational regions of 23 European countries on different dimensions of family norms and practices. We construct regional indicators and use them in a multilevel analysis of the use of grandparents as the main source of child care by European mothers.

Results: Results show that European mothers' reliance on grandparental child care is influenced by individual characteristics and the supply of formal child care, but also by the normative climate in the region they live in. Irrespective of the attitudes individually held, we find that mothers in more conservative regions are more inclined to use grandparents as the main source of child care instead of formal alternatives.

Conclusions: European patterns of child care use are not only subject to structural factors as the supply of formal care provisions for children. Preferences and attitudes prevalent in the regions in which young parents live form an important part of the picture too.

Author's Affiliation

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