Grandparents Caring for Their Grandchildren: Emerging Roles and Exchanges in Global Perspectives

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Families are the safety nets for society because they handle whatever problems for which there are no adequate programs or organizational responses in the larger society. Families also coordinate with the resources that are available. One set of processes which illustrate this way of viewing families is the concept of intergenerational transfers and the roles they play in smoothing family stress and supporting individuals at turning points and transitions. The focus of this paper is to look at the emerging roles some grandparents are playing in their grandchildren's and great grandchildren's lives. A brief overview of global trends which have brought grandparents into new roles is given. Each location has a different mix of demographic, economic and policy situations which shapes some of the responses; however these short examples illustrate the critical place grandparents often have in meeting their decedents' needs. Implications for changing governmental policies and programs, new conceptualizations of life course family caregiving and adjusting planning and transfer schemes to meet new demands are discussed.

The extension of aging for many people today includes at least two major transitions, first to a post-retirement phase beginning somewhere between 50 and 70 and ending with a transition to frailty, disability, or death. The projection from the Administration on Aging is that the 65+ will grow from 12.6 to 20% of the U.S. population by 2050. The fastest growing population sector is the frail elderly group (85+), which is estimated increase by 400% in the next 50 years (Siegel, 1996). This phase is characterized by loss of spouse, peers and other relatives including children and often lack of available caregiver (Johnson & Troll, 1996). While most people make some plans for the first phase of elder life, they are often surprised that new solutions are needed following an active retirement stage (Settles, 2005). Similarly this phenomenon is growing in most of the developed nations and many of the developing countries such as China and India.

Globalization, Social and Economic Change

Multigenerational households have been 'seen as the traditional way to serve the needs of caregiving for both the young and the old. Living in the same dwelling conveys a much closer interaction and shared living, although when there is sufficient wealth many families create areas of privacy and independence. Housing and living arrangements for families and individuals reflect values, available incomes, housing policy, life style choices, regional and rural-urban opportunities and socio-economic status (Settles, 2001). Many grandparents still live with an adult child especially in Asia (Nauck & Suckow, 2006). Rising opportunities for young people seem to be important in forming independent households (Ruggles, 2007). Historically, multigenerational households have been associated with family businesses, especially farming and shop keeping which now is a class in decline in western industrial societies (Myles & Morgan, 1995). "Nuclear family households predominate and even when extra people were in such households they tend to be boarders, household help, and apprentices. There never existed in American society or in western Europe an era when co-residence of three generations in the same household was the dominant pattern" (Hareven, 2000, p. 303). Doubling up of both generations and siblings happens because of economic and/or mobility pressures. Chain migration often creates situations for multi-generational households (Settles, 2001). While perhaps not the preferred living arrangement, housing shortages and high cost housing create situations in which shared living arrangements are practical. Clearly the mobility needed to follow employment options, the opportunities for educational attainment, and urbanization have all generated reasons for single living and nuclear households. …