Cecilia Tomassini (University of Molise, Italy)
Marco Albertini (University of Bologna, Italy)
Bruno Arpino (University of Firenze, Italy)
Karen Glaser (King’s College London, UK)
Research on grandparents and grandparenthood is flourishing around the world. Interest in the role that grandparents play in family life has grown considerably over the last decades as populations age. This is in response to trends such as rising life expectancy which means it is now common for a child to grow up with living grandparents and even great grandparents. Longer years of shared lives than ever before between grandparents and grandchildren brings about new opportunities and challenges for intergenerational family relations. Also, the rising mothers’ labour force participation and union dissolutions imply that the role grandparents play in family life as providers of financial, emotional, and practical support has become increasingly important. At the same time, however, grandparents’ central role as providers of childcare is challenged by increasing pressures to postpone retirement.
Despite the growing interest on grandparenthood and grandparenting, our understanding of the role grandparents play in family life is limited, particularly in Europe. Evidence from the US suggests increasing grandparental involvement in family life particularly among the more disadvantaged. In Europe, cuts to public services in response to the international financial crisis have also raised concerns that it is those with the fewest resources who are increasingly likely to rely on grandparental support.
Prior studies also seem to suggest that caring for grandchildren might impact grandparents’ health and wellbeing, depending on the intensity of grandchild care provided. This has raised concerns that more intensive and demanding childcare tasks are falling disproportionately on grandparents with the fewest resources, exacerbating existing social, financial, and health inequalities in later life. Yet, our understanding of the nature and extent of grandparental childcare and its consequences for health and well-being as well as for other family and societal roles (such as employment) remains limited, particularly in Italy, and Europe more in general.
Italy constitutes an interesting case study to examine the role of grandparents. Italy displays one of the highest prevalence of intensive grandchild care provision in Europe, also as a response to a low coverage of childcare services and despite one of the lowest rates of mothers’ labour market participation. This peculiar aspects of Italian society is also associated with higher than average living proximity between grandparents, parents and their young grandchildren. The Italian case is also fascinating for its considerable heterogeneity, which is often referred to as a “natural laboratory”. Contextual factors (e.g., childcare services, (un)employment rates) that may influence or moderate the role of grandparents greatly change from one region to another. Intergenerational relations also manifest in different ways across Italian regions. The prevalence of multigenerational households, of frequent intergenerational contacts and grandchild care tend to be substantially higher in the region of the Center and South of Italy as compared to the North. This heterogeneity sparks a series of interesting questions about the demography of grandparenthood and implications of grandparenting.
This proposed Thematic Series seeks to reflect and push forward the current state of the art in the study of grandparenthood and grandparenting in Italy in a comparative European perspective. First, we look for studies that examine demographic aspects of grandparenthood, such as age at grandparenthood and number of grandchildren. Studying these aspects is fundamental to understand current and possible future developments of the grandparent role. Second, we will collect papers that analyse intergenerational transfers, contacts and living proximity between grandparents, parents and children. Further, studies on the consequences of grandparenting and especially of grandchild care provision will be examined are welcome. Finally, submission of studies on the consequences of grandparents’ role on parents’ and children’s outcomes is also encouraged. Cross-cutting aspects across all studies will be represented by regional and socio-economic differences.
Whereas the focus clearly is on Italy as a particularly interesting case for grandparenthood and grandparenting, studies on other European countries are welcome as well.
In sum, this Thematic Series will provide readers with multiple (methodological, regional, substantive) perspectives on contemporary grandparenthood.
Submission Deadline: September 30, 2021