Academic journal article Generations

Grandparenting in Rural China

Academic journal article Generations

Grandparenting in Rural China

Article excerpt

Family structure, educational attainment, and personal resources play a large role in whether or not grandparents become caregivers for their grandchildren.

Contributions by grandparents to the care and well-being of descendant generations are well-documented in developed, developing, and less developed countries (Fuller-Thomson and Minkler, 2001; Hughes et al., 2007; Zimmer and Dayton, 2005; Hermalin, 2002). But there is a socioeconomic divide when considering the reasons grandparents serve as care providers for their younger grandchildren (Arber and Timonen, 2012).

In wealthier countries, particularly those with high female labor force participation, grandparent caregivers are most often considered "mother savers," allowing mothers of young grandchildren to work in the paid labor force. In poorer nations and low-income communities in wealthier nations, grandparents serve primarily as "child savers," taking care of children whose parents are no longer living, or are challenged or not competent to engage in effective parenting.

But in rapidly developing countries, grandparents are more aptly characterized as "family maximizers," allowing adult children to take advantage of expanding labor markets and acquire resources from which all generations in the family benefit (Baker and Silverstein, 2012). Nowhere is this latter type of grandparenting more prevalent than in China, a nation that has achieved unprecedented economic growth in the last two decades.

Research has demonstrated that when adult children migrate for jobs, this migration benefits the "leftbehind" grandparent caregivers by increasing remittances received from those children (Silverstein, Cong, and Li, 2006). Grandparents who care for their grandchildren have been shown to benefit from their efforts in improved psychological wellbeing (Cong and Silverstein, 2008) and physical health (Chen and Liu, 2012).

There is also evidence that good psychological and physical health are selective qualities that enable these grandparents to enter the caregiving role in the first place (Baker and Silverstein, 2012). Yet even among these relatively fit grandparents, policy makers and program planners in China have recognized the strains and challenges faced by elderly childcare providers. Providers often have limited economic resources and a questionable ability to manage difficult children; however, few initiatives have been implemented to serve the unique needs of these grandparents as a special class.

Rapid social and economic change in China has potentially altered opportunities for grandparent caregiving and the conditions under which it occurs. Declines in fertility that have reduced family size, increases in the financial resources available to all generations, and improvements in the health of older adults are all changes with consequences for grandparent caregiving. This article examines whether such changes in family structure and resources through the first decade of the twenty-first century have altered the likelihood that grandparents in rural China will provide care for their grandchildren. In recent years, personal and family circumstances have changed for older grandparents; some circumstances have reduced the demand to provide care and others have enhanced grandparents' capacity to do so.

Effects of Fertility Rate, Employment, and Education

Although fertility decline in rural China is less dramatic than in urban China, the number of grandchildren available for grandparents to care for has been greatly reduced because of family planning policies and the increased cost of child-rearing (Usui and Tsuruwaka, 2011). Individuals born between 1948 and 1957 had an average of 2.8 children, compared to the approximately four children born, on average, in the previous generation (Zimmer and Kwong, 2003). Reduced family size implies that there are fewer adult children who require grandparents to provide childcare, and fewer grandchildren who need it. …

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