More Grandparents Are Bankrolling Families Than Ever Before

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Most grandparents babysit and provide financial support for grandkids as they try to save their children money and build stronger family connections, two new studies show.A University of Chicago analysis of a decade of data based on interviews with 13,614 grandparents, ages 50 and older, finds that 61 per cent of grandparents provided at least 50 hours a year of care for grandchildren at least one year between 1998 and 2008; 70 per cent provided care for two years or more.

The data are from a longitudinal survey collected every two years since 1992 by the university’s National Opinion Research centre. Findings are in the Journal of Family Issues.

“We took people who didn’t live with their grandchildren and looked at how many hours of care they provide,” says sociologist Linda Waite, a co-author of the study. For some people that might mean “babysitting for going out. For sure, it’s day care for some people.”

Another survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,008 grandparents ages 45 and older, out today, suggests similar findings. The online research was done in April for the MetLife Mature Market Institute and the nonprofit Generations United, an intergenerational policy group.

Among findings, timed to Grandparents Day on Sunday:

– 59 per cent have at least one grandchild within 50 miles; 39 per cent have one more than 500 miles away;

– 62 per cent have provided financial support to grandchildren in the past five years, averaging $8,289, primarily for investments and education;

– 74 per cent babysit or provide care weekly.

The University of Chicago study found grandparents with more education and better incomes more likely to provide babysitting; those less likely to provide it have kids of their own at home or are older, unmarried and less likely employed.

“People who were fairly advantaged were likely to babysit,” says Waite, co-director of NORC’s centre on ageing. “That seems to be people who want to stay in touch with grandchildren and maybe want to give their kids a break.”

But the 39 per cent who didn’t provide that level of babysitting doesn’t mean they aren’t involved grandparents, Waite says. Their grandkids may be teens or young adults and don’t require it; some grandparents may be in poor health or physically unable to care for grandchildren, or they may live too far away to provide that level of direct care.

Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, in Washington, D.C., says grandparents who provide care do so because “they want to, and because of the economy.”

“Grandparents are being asked to help financially and relieve the financial burden of child care, by taking care of their grandchildren,” she says. “They have a tendency to be healthier and want to be involved in their grandchildren’s lives. They’re not as interested in moving away from their families. If anything, they would move to be closer to their grandchildren.”

That’s exactly what Beverly Walker, 59, says brought her back to Salem, Ore., three years ago. She’s a mother of three and grandmother of five, ages 2 to 8, now all living in Salem. But in 1996, Walker and her two youngest kids moved to Reno, Nev., after a car accident that killed her husband.

“When I started having grandkids, every time I’d see them, they were getting bigger. I didn’t want to go home when I came up here,” Walker says.

After she returned, she encouraged her kids to leave the grandkids with her. The two oldest girls spend weekends with her because their parents work and go to school. She has also spent a year providing daycare for one grandson.

“They’re the light of my life,” Walker says. “I just love having them here.”

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