Grandparents in the blues. The effect of childcare on grandparents’ depression

  • Giorgio Brunello
  • Lorenzo Rocco


We estimate the effect of grandchild care on the depression of grandmothers and grandfathers, using data from the Survey on Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe and an identification strategy which exploits both the random variation in the timing of interviews across individuals and the fact that the demand for childcare declines with the age of grandchildren. We find that more childcare increases depression. The estimated effect is sizeable: ten additional hours of childcare per month increase the probability that complying grandmothers and grandfathers develop depressive symptoms by 3.2 to 3.3 percentage points and by 5.4 to 6.1 percentage points respectively.

JEL Codes

J13 I12 


Childcare Grandparents Depression Europe 



We are grateful to Marco Bertoni, Hope Corman, Maria De Paola, Jeffrey DeSimone, José Escarce, Andrea Ichino, Ariela Lowenstein, Giovanni Mastrobuoni, Raffaele Miniaci, Michele Pellizzari, Enrico Rettore, Lucia Rizzica, Silvia Salcuni, Anna Sanz de Galdeano, Marcello Sartarelli, Elena Stancanelli and the audiences at seminars and conferences in Alicante, Brescia, Bolzano, Ispra (JRC), Trento (IRVAPP), Jerusalem (Taub Center), San Diego and UCLA for comments and suggestions. This paper uses data from SHARELIFE release 1 and SHARE release 2.6.0. The SHARE data collection has been primarily funded by the European Commission through the 5th frame work programme (project QLK6-CT-2001-00360 in the thematic programme Quality of Life), through the 6th framework programme (projects SHARE-I3, RII-CT-2006 062193, COMPARE, CIT5-CT-2005-028857, and SHARELIFE, CIT4-CT-2006-028812) and through the 7th frame work programme (SHARE-PREP, 211909 and SHARE-LEAP, 227822). Financial support by Fondazione Cariparo Starting Grant “Education, Retirement and Household Behavior” is gratefully acknowledged. The usual disclaimer applies.


This study was funded by the CARIPARO Foundation Starting Grant on “Education, Retirement and Household Behavior”.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Ahn, T., & Choi, K. (2018). Grandparent caregiving and cognitive functioning among older people: evidence from Korea. Review of the Economics of the Household, 16, 1–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Angrist, J. & Pischke, J. (2008). Almost harmless econometrics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Arpino, B., & Bordone, V. (2014). Does grand-parenting pay off? The effect of child care on grandparents’ cognitive functioning. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(April 2014), 337–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arpino, B., & Bordone, V. (2017). Regular provision of granchild care and participation in social activities. Review of the Economics of the Household, 15, 135–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baker, L. A., & Silverstein, M. (2008). Preventive health behaviors among grandmothers raising grandchildren. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 63, S304–S311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Benazon, N. R., & Coyne, J. C. (2000). Living with a depressed spouse. Journal of Family Psychology, 14(1), 71–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Black, D. A., Joo, J., LaLonde, R., Smith, J., & Taylor, E. (2015). Simple tests for selection bias: learning more from instrumental variables, IZA discussion papers 9346. Bonn, Germany: Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).Google Scholar
  8. Black, S., Devereux, P., & Salvanes, K. (2005). The more the merrier? The effect of family size and birth order on children’s education. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 120(2), 669–700.Google Scholar
  9. Blau, D. M., & Currie, J. (2006). Pre-school, day care, and after-school care: who’s minding the kids? In E. A. Hanushek, & F. Welch (Eds.), Handbook of the economics of education, vol. 2 (pp. 1163–1278). New York: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  10. Börsch-Supan, A., & Krieger, U. (2013). Investigating response behavior. In F. Malter & A. Börsch-Supan (Eds.), SHARE wave 4 innovations & methodology. Munich: Munich Center for the Economics of Aging (MEA).Google Scholar
  11. Case, A., Fertig, A., & Paxton, C. (2005). The lasting impact of childhood health and circumstance. Journal of Health Economics, 24(2), 365–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Case, A., & Paxton, C. (2008). Height, health, and cognitive function at older ages. American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings, 98(2), 463–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Castro-Costa, E., Dewey, M., Stewart, R., Banerjee, S., Huppert, F., Mendonca-Lima, C., Bula, C., Reisches, F., Wancata, J., Ritchie, K., Tsolaki, M., Mateos, R., & Prince, M. (2007). Prevalence of depressive symptoms and syndromes in later life in ten European countries: The SHARE study. British Journal of Psychiatry, 191(5), 393–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Castro-Costa, E., Dewey, M., Stewart, R., Banerjee, S., Huppert, F., Mendonca-Lima, C., Bula, C., Reisches, F., Wancata, J., Ritchie, K., Tsolaki, M., Mateos, R., & Prince, M. (2008). Ascertaining late-life depressive symptoms in Europe: an evaluation of the survey version of the Euro-D scale in 10 nations. The SHARE Project. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 17(1), 12–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Clement, S., Schauman, O., Graham, T., Maggioni, F., Evans-Lacko, S., Bezborodovs, N., Morgan, C., Rüsch, N., Brown, J. S. L., & Thornicroft, G. (2015). What is the impact of mental health-related stigma on help-seeking? A systematic review of quantitative and qualitative studies. Psychological Medicine, 45, 11–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Coall, D. A., & Hertwig, R. (2011). Grandparental investment: a relic of the past or a resource for the future? Psychological Science, 20, 93–98.Google Scholar
  17. Coyne, J. C., Kessler, R. C., Tal, M., Turnbull, J., Wortman, C. B., & Greden, J. F. (1987). Living with a depressed person. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55(3), 347–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Conley, T. G., Hansen, C. B., & Rossi, P. E. (2012). Plausibly exogenous. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 94(1), 260–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Del Boca, D. (2002). The effect of child care and part time opportunities on participation and fertility decisions in Italy. Journal of Population Economics, 15, 549–573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. De Luca, G., & Lipps, O. (2005). Fieldwork and survey management in SHARE. In A. Börsch-Supan & H. Jürges (Eds.), The Survey of Health, Aging, and Retirement in Europe – Methodology. Mannheim: Mannheim Research Institute for the Economics of Aging.Google Scholar
  21. Dewey, M., & Prince, M. (2005). Mental health. In A. Borsch-Supan (Ed.), Health, ageing and retirement in Europe. First results from the survey of health, ageing and retirement in Europe (pp. 108–117). Mannheim: Mannheim Research Institute for the Economics of Ageing.Google Scholar
  22. Di Gessa, G., Glaser, K., & Tinker, A. (2016). The health impact of intensive and non-intensive grandchild care in Europe: new evidence from SHARE. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 71(5), 867–879.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Eisenberg, D., Golberstein, E., Whitlock, J. L., & Downs, M. F. (2013). Social contagion of mental health: evidence from college roommates. Health Economics, 22, 965–986.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. European Commission (2012). The role of men in gender equality: European strategies and insights, Brussels: European Commission.Google Scholar
  25. Ferrari, A. J., Charlson, F. J., Norman, R. E., Patten, S. B., Freedman, G., Murray, C. J. L., Vos, T., & Whiteford, H. A. (2013). Burden of depressive disorders by country, sex, age, and year: findings from the global burden of disease study 2010. PLoS Medicine, 10(11), e1001547.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Glaser, K., Price, D., Di Gessa, G., Ribe, E., Stuchbury, R., & Tinker, A. (2013). Grandparenting in Europe: family policy and grandparents’ role in providing childcare. Grandparents plus report.
  27. Goldman, L. S., Nancy, H., Nielsen, N. H., & Champion, H. C. (1999). Awareness, diagnosis, and treatment of depression. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 14, 569–580.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Havnes, T., & Mogstad, M. (2011). Money for nothing? Universal child care and maternal employment. Journal of Public Economics, 95, 1455–1465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hughes, M. E., Waite, L. J., LaPierre, T. A., & Luo, Y. (2007). All in the family: the impact of caring for grandchildren on grandparents’ health. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 62, S108–S119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hwang, S., Jayadevappa, R., Zee, J., Zivin, K., Bogner, H. R., Raue, P. J., Bruce, M. L., Reynolds, III, C. F., & Gallo, J. J. (2015). Concordance between clinical diagnosis and medicare claims of depression among older primary care patients. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 23(7), 726–734.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Janta, B. (2014). Caring for children in Europe. Cambridge: RAND Europe.Google Scholar
  32. Kessler, R. C., & Bromet, E. J. (2013). The epidemiology of depression across cultures. Annual Review of Public Health, 34, 119–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ku, L., Stearns, S., Houtven, C., & Holmes, G. (2012). The health effects of caregiving by grandparents in Taiwan: an instrumental variable estimation. Review of Economics of the Household, 10(4), 521–540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Larraga, L., Saz, P., Dewey, M., Marcos, G., & Lobo, A. (2006). Validation of the Spanish version of the EURO-D scale: an instrument for detecting depression in older people. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 21, 1199–1205. 2006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Maurer, D. M. (2012). Screening for depression. American Family Physician, 85(2), 139–144.Google Scholar
  36. Mausner-Dorsch, H., & Eaton, W. W. (2000). Psychosocial work environment and depression: epidemiologic assessment of the demand–control model. American Journal of Public Health, 90(11), 1765–1770.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mazzonna, F., & Peracchi, F. (2014). Unhealthy retirement?. EIEF working papers series 1409. Roma: Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF).Google Scholar
  38. Minkler, M. (1999). Intergenerational households headed by grandparents: contexts, realities, and implications for policy. Journal of Aging Studies, 13, 199–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. NIMH National Institute of Mental Health. (2015). Depression. What you need to know. Bethesda: NIMH.Google Scholar
  40. Posadas, J., & Vidal-Fernandez, M. (2012). Grandparents’ childcare and female labor force participation. IZA discussion paper no. 6398. Bonn: IZA.Google Scholar
  41. Powdthavee, N. (2011). Life satisfaction and grandparenthood: evidence from a nationwide survey. IZA discussion paper no. 5869. Bonn: Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).Google Scholar
  42. Prince, M. J., Beekman, A. T., Deeg, D. J., Fuhrer, R., Kivela, S. L., & Lawlor, B. A., et al. (1999). Depression symptoms in late life assessed using the EURO-D scale: effect of age, gender and marital status in 14 European centres. British Journal of Psychiatry, 174, 339–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Rosenbaum, P. R., & Rubin, D. (1983). The central role of the propensity score in observational studies for causal effects. Biometrika, 70(1), 41–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rupert, P., & Zanella, G. (2016). Grandchildren and their grandparents’ labour supply. New York: Mimeo.Google Scholar
  45. Reinkowski, J. (2013). Should we care that they care? Grandchild care and its impacts on grandparent health. ifo working paper 165. Munich: ifo Institute.Google Scholar
  46. Silverstein, M., Giarrusso, R., & Bengtson, V. L. (2003). Grandparents and grandchildren in family systems: a social-developmental perspective. In V. L. Bengtson & A. Lowenstein (Eds.), Global aging and challenges to families (pp. 75–103). New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  47. Sobocki, P., Jönsson, B., Angst, J., & Rehnberg, C. (2006). Costs of depression in Europe. Journal of Mental Health Policy Economics, 9(2), 87–98.Google Scholar
  48. Zamarro, G. (2011). Family labor participation and child care decisions. The role of grannies. RAND working paper WR-833. Santa Monica: Rand.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economics and ManagementUniversity of Padova, Cesifo, IZA and ROAPaduaItaly
  2. 2.Department of Economics and ManagementUniversity of Padova, GLOPaduaItaly

Personalised recommendations