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The involvement of grandparents

in children’s lives


The involvement of grandparents in children’s lives

© Crown copyright 2012

You may re-use this information (excluding logos and images) free of charge in any

format or medium, under the terms of the Open Government Licence. To view this

licence, visit http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/ or e-mail: psi@nationalarchives.gsi.gov.uk.

Where we have identified any third party copyright information you will need to obtain permission from the copyright holders concerned.

This document is available from our website at www.scotland.gov.uk.

ISBN: 978-1-78045-738-3 (web only) The Scottish Government St Andrew’s House Edinburgh EH1 3DG Produced for the Scottish Government by APS Group Scotland DPPAS12797 (05/12) Published by the Scottish Government, May 2012


The involvement of grandparents in children’s lives Lynn Jamieson*, Pamela Warner*, Paul Bradshaw† *Centre for Research on Families and Relationships †ScotCen Social Research Prepared for the Scottish Government: Children and Families ASU by the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships and ScotCen Social Research

Suggested citation: Jamieson, L., Warner, P., and Bradshaw, P. (2012). Growing Up in Scotland:

The involvement of grandparents in children’s lives, Edinburgh: Scottish Government.


The involvement of grandparents in children’s lives


First and foremost, the authors of the report would like to thank all the families who have given up their time to take part in the study and have supported it continuously sweep by sweep.

The Growing Up in Scotland study is very much a collaborative venture. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to colleagues in NatCen’s operations and computing departments and to the team of interviewers and supervisors for conducting the interviews with such dedication and professionalism.

We would also like to thank everyone involved in the preparation of this report – particularly Wendy van Rijswijk and colleagues at the Scottish Government who provided feedback on early drafts. Thanks to Tom Clemens for his earlier analysis of GUS data on grandparents during his time on his ESRC and Scottish Government student internship. Responsibility for the opinions expressed in this report, and for all interpretation of the data, lies solely with the authors.





1.1 Background 6

1.2 Aims 8

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The involvement of grandparents in children’s lives


Research shows that a grandparent is a key source of informal support for many parents and can be an important ally and influence in a child’s life. Previous GUS reports (Anderson et al, 2007, Bradshaw et al, 2008, Bradshaw and Wasoff 2009) have confirmed the importance of grandparents as an informal source of support for grandchildren and their parents.

Grandparents themselves have campaigned for greater recognition and are increasingly acknowledged in family policy, including key Scottish Government polices.

At the same time, research suggests it is a mistake to treat ‘grandparents’ as a rather undifferentiated category, since not all grandparents are involved with their grandchildren.

Policy makers and practitioners require some understanding of which grandparents are most likely to be an active or potential part of the informal network of care contributing to children’s wellbeing.

The overall aim of this report is to provide a more nuanced understanding of variation in grandparental support to grandchildren and their parents over a child’s early years in

Scotland. This report addresses a number of questions:

• Who is counted as a grandparent? How many grandparents do children have? Which grandparents are most likely to interact with their grandchildren and provide support to their parents?

• Do factors increasing and decreasing children’s pool of grandparents (such as age of mother at birth and repartnering of parents and grandparents) typically translate into a corresponding change in available support?

• What characteristics of grandparents and circumstances of children are associated with more involvement of grandparents?

• Does lineage (i.e. whether the grandparents are ‘maternal’ or ‘paternal’) continue to influence the level of grandparental support and do maternal grandmothers remain the dominant support givers? Is there is any evidence of grandfathers becoming more like grandmothers in their level of involvement with children?

Family circumstances and grandparents, at age 6 Chapter 2 describes the number and characteristics of children’s living grandparents focusing particularly on characteristics likely to affect their availability to their grandchildren, such as age, employment, proximity and relationship to the child’s main carer.

The number of grandparents a child has increases if a parent re-partners and the new partner’s parents become grandparents, or new partners of grandparents become grandparents.

At age 6, the number of grandparents children had alive ranged from none to 10.

Virtually all (99%) children have at least one living grandparent. The proportion of children with no grandparents increases with the age of their mother at birth, from 0% for mothers aged under 20 to 11% for mothers aged 40 or older.

The grandparents that are alive for the largest proportion of 6-year-old children are the mother (88%) and father (74%) of the child’s main carer. Since the main carer is the child’s mother in 96% of cases, most are literally the child’s maternal grandparents.

Around four-fifths (78%) of children at age 6 live in a couple household with their mother and either their natural father (74%) or their mother’s partner (4%) and report the parents of their father or mother’s partner as grandparents. Sixty-six per cent of children have this type of grandmother and 55% have this type of grandfather. In most cases they are their paternal grandparents. Some children have another type of paternal grandparents: 17% have grandmothers and 14% have grandfathers who are the parents of a non-resident father.

Even when both maternal or paternal grandparents are alive, it cannot be assumed that they live together and are available to the child as a couple; 29% of main carers reported that their parents (i.e. the child’s grandparents) were not living together.

Grandparents varied in age – from 30 to 96 years old – and employment status – 36% of maternal grandmothers and 43% of maternal grandfathers were in employment.

Less than 1% of the children are being brought up by a grandparent though 4% had a grandparent living with them. This figure was higher in lone parent households (8%) than in couple households (1%).

Eighty-seven per cent of 6 year olds have one or more grandparent living nearby (within 20-30 minutes’ drive), 72% have two or more and 44% have three or more. Children in the highest income households (22%) were more likely to have no local grandparents than children in the lowest income households (8%).

At age 3, 68% of children had their ‘maternal grandmother’ and 55% had their ‘maternal grandfather’ living locally. In comparison, 49% of children had their ‘paternal grandmother’ and 40% their ‘paternal grandfather’ living locally.

Children’s contact with grandparents, at ages 3 and 6 Chapter 3 explores grandparent-grandchild relationships. It looks at emotional closeness, contact and interaction between grandchildren and their different types of ‘maternal’ and ‘paternal’ grandmothers and grandfathers.

Living nearby increases the likelihood of grandparents and grandchildren being in contact, being emotionally close and interacting frequently but variations between maternal and paternal grandparents, grandmothers and grandfathers emerge. About three children in five have a local, emotionally close grandparent and two in five do not.


The involvement of grandparents in children’s lives Higher proportions of grandmothers were in contact, emotionally close and interacting with grandchildren than the equivalent grandfathers. These patterns of interaction were much the same whether grandmothers were living alone, with new partners or living in grandparent couples. On the other hand, grandfathers living alone or with new partners have markedly lower levels of interaction with their grandchildren than grandfathers living with the grandmother.

‘Lineage’ – how the grandparent was related to the main carer – seems to effect levels of closeness, contact and patterns of interaction; higher proportions of ‘maternal grandparents’ are close and in contact than ‘paternal grandparents’.

There are sometimes marked variations in patterns of interaction between grandmothers and grandchildren by the circumstances of the child’s family. The proportion of grandparents with very frequent ‘hands-on’ interaction is often higher among lower income groups and children whose mothers were young at birth. For example, 64% of children whose mothers were under 20 at the child’s birth stay overnight with their ‘maternal grandparents’ at least once a month compared with 12% amongst children whose mothers were 40 or over at birth (and 31% of all children).

Less than half of children with grandparents who are the parents of a non-resident father are in contact compared with over 80% of other ‘paternal’ grandparents. Nevertheless, some grandmothers who are the mothers of non-resident fathers are very involved with their grandchild, sometimes matching the involvement of maternal grandmothers.

Smaller proportions of repartnered grandparents see their grandchildren frequently than grandparents living on their own, but the effect is more marked among grandfathers. Also a new partnership seems to facilitate a maternal grandmother’s offering of financial assistance but to depress such assistance from a paternal grandfather. This is consistent with women taking a more leading role in a couple in tending to kinship ties.

Grandparents’ support for the child’s parent Chapter 4 focuses on the support grandparents provide to children’s parents including financial support and the provision of child care. This latter important form of support to parents also involves direct interaction with grandchildren and is also likely to strengthen grandparent-grandchild relationships.

The majority of all types of children’s grandparents buy children toys, clothes or equipment at least once a year. Maternal grandparent couples and maternal grandmothers living alone or with new partners are the most likely to make such purchases and the most likely to give advice, help around the house and, along with maternal grandfathers living on their own, to give financial assistance. Living with a new partner, decreases the proportion of maternal grandfathers giving financial assistance.

Across almost all types of grandparents, the percentage providing financial support is higher in the lowest income group of families who have the greatest need of support.

GUS data have continually shown the role of grandparents as a key source of regular informal childcare for parents. When children started school, reliance on grandparents increased markedly to 67% among parents who used any childcare. However, since the number of parents making no use of childcare also increased, the proportion of all children receiving regular grandparent care remained stable at approaching two in five.

The proportion receiving some hours of weekly term-time grandparent care is highest among higher income groups, ranging from 43% in the highest income group to 24% in the lowest income group. In contrast, the proportion of children receiving longer grandparent care (for more than 14 hours a week) in school term time is remarkably consistent across income groups (between 7% and 9%). The proportion of children receiving grandparent care increases in the school holidays and is highest for children whose main carers work 35 hours a week or more, as may be expected. Receipt of childcare from a grandparent for more than 14 hours a week during the holidays also varies by income ranging from 11% of children in the lowest income group to 23% in the highest. Higher income families seem to be able to draw on extra grandparent care in the holidays even when they have no local grandparents.

Policy implications The data confirm the wisdom of an early years and parenting policy that heeds the role grandparents play. It also confirms the importance of simultaneously acknowledging that some grandparents are more involved than others, both accepting that diverse and multiple grandparents may play key roles, and the frequent hierarchy of importance culminating in the maternal grandmother as the key grandparent.

Given the significance of geographical proximity, housing allocation enabling proximity and transport enabling mobility are important issues if grandparent-grandchild relationships are to be facilitated.

Policies which extend grandparents working lives and working hours are likely to impact on the current use of grandparents as parent’s first choice of flexible childcare in a signifcant proportion of families but may also diminish levels of grandparent-grandchild interaction that is not childcare as such.

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