Patterns of Grandparents Caring for Grandchildren in China
Increased life expectancy and reduced child mortality in most countries around the world indicate that more and more people now live to be grandparents and experience an extended period of grandparenthood. Becoming a grandparent is associated with many important changes in relationships, life styles, and activities (Crosnoe and Elder 2002; Elder 1994; King et al. 1998; Uhlenberg and Kirby 1998). In many societies, grandparents provide care and assistance to their grandchildren. These levels of care range from occasional helping to full-time custodial care. At the micro level, the amount of grandparent caregiving is often driven by the needs of the parents. Examples include weekend babysitting to allow adult children some relief from parenting, or surrogate parenting as a response to a crisis situation in which the parents are unable to fulfill their parental responsibilities. At the macro level, social norms and structural contexts influence the extent of grandparent caregiving in different settings. For example, in the United States, most grandparents do not provide routine care for grandchildren, conforming to a norm of noninterference in intergenerational relationships (Cherlin and Furstenberg 1986). In an East Asian country such as China, where Confucian heritage prescribes strong ties between parents and their children throughout life, it is normative for grandparents to provide care on a consistent basis for their grandchildren (Chen et al. 2000; Hermalin et al. 1998; Unger 1993).