Involving grandparents in young children's lives

New report from Growing Up in Scotland

A new report from GUS describes the crucial role of grandparents in supporting their children and grandchildren (aged six and under) and suggests that any parenting strategy or policy should acknowledge their importance. Policies such as housing allocation and transport, for example, should consider the factors that can promote or prevent grandparental support.

Family circumstances and grandparents

The number of grandparents a child has can increase if a parent or grandparent 're-partners'. At age six, the number of grandparents a child had ranged from none to ten. Almost all children (99%) have at least one living grandparent and 80% have three or more. Grandparents varied in age from 30 to 96. 36% of maternal grandmothers and 43% of maternal grandfathers were still working. Less than 1% of children are being brought up by a grandparent, though 4% have a grandparent living with them.

Children's contact with grandparents

The majority of children living in lower-income households (92%) have at least one local grandparent, compared with 78% of children in the highest-income households. Living locally increases the likelihood of grandparents and grandchildren being in contact, being emotionally close and interacting frequently. Around three in five children have a local, emotionally-close grandparent. Grandmothers are more likely than grandfathers to have frequent contact with grandchildren and to be described as emotionally-close, regardless of whether they are living on their own, with new partners or living in grandparent couples. Maternal grandparents are more likely to live locally and to have frequent interaction with their grandchildren than paternal grandparents. The proportion of grandparents who have very frequent 'hands-on' interaction is generally higher among lower-income families and for children whose mothers were under 20 at their birth.

Grandparents' support for parents

The majority of all types of grandparents buy children toys, clothes or equipment at least once a year. Maternal grandparent couples and maternal grandmothers living alone are the most likely to buy such items 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 and paternal grandfathers giving financial assistance.

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

Grandparents in Scotland are a key source of informal childcare. When children started school, reliance on grandparents increased to 67% of 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 almost two in five. The proportion of children receiving grandparent care increases in the school holidays. Higher-income families seem able to draw on grandparent care even when they have no local grandparents.

To read the full report: www.gov.scot/Publications/2012/05/4455

More information: growingupinscotland.org.uk or contact lesley.kelly@ed.ac.uk

Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) is the longitudinal research study tracking the lives of thousands of children and their families from birth through to the teenage years and beyond. GUS is funded by the Scottish Government and is carried out by ScotCen Social Research in collaboration with the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships at the University of Edinburgh and the MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow.