Volume 43 - Article 53 | Pages 1545–1562  

Looking after grandchildren: gender differences in ‘when,’ ‘what,’ and ‘why’: Evidence from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing

By Giorgio Di Gessa, Paola Zaninotto, Karen Glaser


Background: Grandparents play a vital role in providing childcare to families. However, little is known about when grandmothers and grandfathers look after grandchildren, what they do with them, and why.

Objective: Using novel questions on grandparenting, we first describe the periodicity of grandchild care, activities undertaken with/for grandchildren, and motivations for such care to then assess if there are gender differences.

Methods: We used wave 8 (2016/17) of the nationally-representative English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. The extent to which the periodicity, activities, and motivations are gendered was assessed using logistic regressions. Analyses were carried out on the entire sample of grandparents who provide childcare as well as on coresiding grandparent couples where both grandparents provide grandchild care.

Results: More than 50% of grandparents looked after grandchildren, with the majority doing so throughout the year and about one in four during school holidays. Few gender differences were observed in the periodicity of grandchild care and reasons for looking after grandchildren, with almost two-thirds reporting that they wanted to help parents go to work and give them a break. However, when activities undertaken for/with grandchildren were analysed, clear gender differences emerged. Overall, grandmothers were more likely to report caring and helping activities (e.g., cooking, caring when sick, helping with homework, and collecting them from school) than grandfathers, even when they coresided.

Contribution: Our study is the first to document, at a population level, gender differences in the periodicity of grandchild care, what grandparents do when they look after grandchildren, and why they provide such care.

Author's Affiliation

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