Carers and careers: Grandparental care investment and its labour market consequences in Europe

F. Zanasi

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Carers and Careers
Grandparental care investment and its labour market consequences in Europe
Francesca Zanasi

Lay Summary
As life expectancy increases, grandparents spend a longer part of their lifetime with grandchildren, which opens opportunities for sharing time, resources, and affection. The time grandparents spend with grandchildren has several implications, which were the focal point of the present dissertation. Grandparents differently invest in their grandchildren, according to their socio-economic status: they are active players in the intergenerational transmission of advantages. At the same time, they bear the consequences of their new role, as grandmotherhood influences labour market participation. The extent to which grandmothers reshape their work commitment is determined, on the one hand, by the previous life course, and on the other hand, by the institutional context in which the decisions take place. More specifically, the central findings emerging from the four empirical chapters comprising the present dissertation can be summarized as follows.

In Chapter II, I investigate the likelihood of providing care by grandmothers according to their educational level. Empirical results point toward an educational gradient in grandparental childcare: highly educated grandmothers are more likely to provide grandchildren with care than primary educated grandmothers. Most interestingly, they provide more childcare even when their daughters are not in employment, hence less in need of informal support. Furthermore, highly educated grandparents are more likely to engage in activities related to interactive and educational care, for reasons related to the development of grandchildren. The findings could suggest that mechanism of cultural investment could be at work even in the extended family. In Chapter III, I argue that labour supply of grandmothers is jointly determined by the need of support by the younger generation, and the availability of grandmothers themselves as care providers. I found some evidence that grandmotherhood has a negative effect on employment across European countries, although differences exist according to the institutional context: grandmothers are less likely to be employed where there are fewer childcare services for children, where early retirement options are available, and the pension system more generous. In Chapter IV, I concentrate on England to study the relation between the birth of the first grandchild and the probability of labour market withdrawal for mid-life women, with attention paid to differences in terms of work history and economic household situation. Results show that the probability of labour market withdrawal increases after the birth of the first grandchild. Women who had continuous working careers are more likely to withdraw from the labour market after the birth of the first grandchild compared to women with non-continuous careers. The same holds for women living in wealthy households. The explanation probably lies in the lower opportunity cost these women encounter in withdrawing from the labour market. Finally, in Chapter V, I investigated the consequences of grandmotherhood on retirement for Italian mid-life women, accounting for differences in terms of work history, i.e. number of years worked and social class. Results show that there is only a weak relation between the birth of the first grandchild and retirement for Italian grandmothers, and no differences in term of work history. This result could originate from two parallel processes. On the one hand, mid-life women seem to retire before becoming grandmothers in Italy. This could be due to the interplay of the postponement of fertility and availability of early retirement options: women became grandmothers late in life, and they have the possibility to retire early. On the other hand, Italy has an extremely low female labour force participation rate, and many young mothers are not employed due to the difficulty to reconcile work and family; in other words, grandparental childcare might not be needed by many Italian young mothers.

Overall, the most important take-home message of the present dissertation is that grandparenthood and its consequences are a multifaceted phenomenon, which must be studied in a multi-generational framework and by considering demographic, social, and institutional trends of current European societies.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
  • Achterberg, Peter, Promotor
  • Scherer, S., Promotor, External person
  • Sieben, Inge, Co-promotor
  • Van Bavel, J., Member PhD commission, External person
  • Steverink, B.J.M., Member PhD commission, External person
  • Albertini, M., Member PhD commission, External person
  • Ivanova, Katya, Member PhD commission
  • Arpino, B., Member PhD commission, External person
Award date24 Apr 2020
Place of Publications.l.
Print ISBNs978-94-6375-876-5
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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