The grandparenting paradox: Can you have too much of a good thing?

Thursday 26 July, 1350 – 1410


David Coall
Edith Cowan University

Dr Sonja Hilbrand
University of Basel,
Max Planck Institute for Human Development

Dr Myra Taylor
Edith Cowan University

Professor Ruth Marquis
Edith Cowan University

Jenni Werner
Community Vision Inc

Professor Denis Gerstorf
Humboldt University

Professor Ralph Hertwig
Max Planck Institute for Human Development

Across human cultures, grandparents make a valued contribution to the health of their families and communities. Moreover, evidence is gathering that grandparents can have a positive impact on the development of grandchildren in contemporary industrialised societies. There is little understanding, however, of the health implications for the grandparents who are providing the child care.

This paper will examine two extremes of the grandparent-child care continuum by investigating the impact of non-custodial child care (babysitting) by grandparents on their longevity and the health of grandparents who are raising their own grandchildren. It incorporates data from Germany and Australia to examine the potential cost and benefits of providing child care to grandparents’ health. Using data from the longitudinal Berlin Ageing Study (n=516), survival analyses show that helping provided by grandparents, in the form of babysitting without the parents present, is associated with increased longevity. Grandparents who provided child care showed a mortality hazard that was 33% lower than among grandparents who did not provide help and to non-grandparents.

At the other end of the care spectrum, data from a Western Australian study of grandparents who are raising their own grandchildren shows negative health consequences of custodial grandcare. Qualitative (49 interviews) and quantitative data (88 surveys) will be presented that illustrate the negative health impact of full-time care responsibilities for grandparents.

This paper will conclude with a discussion of the potential health promoting and limiting pathways that policy and services may target.