The New American Grandparent: A Place in the Family, a Life Apart

The New American Grandparent: A Place in the Family, a Life Apart

The New American Grandparent: A Place in the Family, a Life Apart

The New American Grandparent: A Place in the Family, a Life Apart

Synopsis

Two leading sociologists of the family examine the changing role of American grandparents--how they strive for both independence and family ties.

Excerpt

Writing a book about grandparents may seem an exercise in nostalgia, like writing about the family farm. We tend to associate grandparents with old-fashioned families--the rural, extended, multigenerational kind much celebrated in American mythology. Many think that grandparents have become less important as the nation has become more modern. According to this view, the shift to factory and office work meant that grandparents no longer could teach their children and grandchildren the skills needed to make a living; the fall in fertility and the rise in divorce weakened family ties; and the growth of social welfare programs meant that older people and their families were less dependent on each other for support. There is some truth to this perspective, but it ignores a powerful set of historical facts that suggest that grandparenthood--as a distinct and nearly universal stage of family life--is a post-World War II phenomenon.

Consider first the effect of falling rates of death. Much of the decline in mortality from the high preindustrial levels has occurred in this century. According to calculations by demogra-

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