Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Importance of Maternal Grandmother

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_1192-1

If one asks people which of their four grandparents provided the most care for them when they were a child or to which grandparent they feel closest, the most people will answer the maternal grandmother.

Indeed, many research studies found that the intensity of caregiving by the four grandparents is not the same but regularly different. In most urban societies, grandmothers typically invest more in grandchildren than grandfathers, and maternal grandparents invest typically more than paternal. Thus, grandparental caregiving (i.e., their grandchild care, investment of resources, solicitude, involvement, and contact frequency) follows the asymmetric pattern: maternal grandmother provides on average the most caregiving for grandchildren, followed by the maternal grandfather and the paternal grandmother, and the paternal grandfather provides the least caregiving (Smith 1988; Euler and Weitzel 1996; Salmon 1999; Pashos 2000; Pashos and McBurney 2008; Danielsbacka et al. 2011; Pashos et al. 2016...


Maternal Grandmother Paternal Grandmother Maternal Grandfather Grandchild Care Paternal Grandfather 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Anderson, K. G. (2006). How well does paternity confidence match actual paternity? Evidence from worldwide nonpaternity rates. Current Anthropology, 47, 513–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Beise, J. (2005). The helping and helpful grandmother: The role of maternal and paternal grandmothers in child mortality in the seventeenth and eighteenth century population of French settlers in Quebec, Canada. In E. Voland, A. Chasiotis, & W. Schiefenhövel (Eds.), Grandmotherhood: The evolutionary significance of the second half of female life (pp. 215–238). New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Chan, C. G., & Elder Jr., G. H. (2000). Matrilineal advantage in grandparent–grandchild relations. The Gerontologist, 40, 179–190.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Crittenden, A., & Marlowe, F. (2008). Allomaternal care among the Hadza of Tanzania. Human Nature, 19, 249–262.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Danielsbacka, M., Tanskanen, A. O., Jokela, M., & Rotkirch, A. (2011). Grandparental child care in Europe: Evidence for preferential investment in more certain kin. Evolutionary Psychology, 9, 3–24.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Dubas, J. S. (2001). How gender moderates the grandparent–grandchild relationship: A comparison of kin-keeper and kin-selector theories. Journal of Family Issues, 22, 478–492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Euler, H. A. (2011). Grandparents and extended kin. In C. A. Salmon & T. K. Shackelford (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of evolutionary family psychology (pp. 181–207). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Euler, H. A., Hoier, S., & Rohde, P. (2009). Relationship–specific intergenerational family ties: An evolutionary approach to the structure of cultural transmission. In U. Schönpflug (Ed.), Cultural transmission: Psychological, developmental, social, and methodological aspects (pp. 70–91). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Euler, H. A., & Weitzel, B. (1996). Discriminative grandparental solicitude as reproductive strategy. Human Nature, 7, 39–59.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Gaulin, S. J. C., McBurney, D. H., & Brakeman-Wartell, S. L. (1997). Matrilateral biases in the investment of aunts and uncles. Human Nature, 8, 139–151.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Hawkes, K., O’Connell, J. F., Blurton Jones, N. G., Alvarez, H. P., & Charnov, E. L. (1998). Grandmothering, menopause, and the evolution of human life histories. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 95, 1336–1339.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  12. Hill, K., & Hurtado, A. M. (2009). Cooperative breeding in south American hunter-gatherers. Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, 276, 3863–3870.CrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  13. Hrdy, S. B. (2005). Cooperative breeders with an ace in the hole. In E. Voland, A. Chasiotis, & W. Schiefenhövel (Eds.), Grandmotherhood: The evolutionary significance of the second half of female life (pp. 295–317). New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Kaptijn, R., Thomese, F., Liefbroer, A. C., & Silverstein, M. (2013). Testing evolutionary theories of discriminative grandparental investment. Journal of Biosocial Science, 45, 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. King, V. (2003). The legacy of a grandparent's divorce: Consequences for ties between grandparents and grandchildren. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 65, 170–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. King, V., Silverstein, M., Elder Jr., G. H., Bengtson, V. L., & Conger, R. D. (2003). Relations with grandparents: Rural Midwest versus urban southern California. Journal of Family Issues, 24, 1044–1069.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kramer, K. L. (2010). Cooperative breeding and its significance to the demographic success of humans. Annual Review of Anthropology, 39, 417–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Laham, S. M., Gonsalkorale, K., & von Hippel, W. (2005). Darwinian grandparenting: Preferential investment in more certain kin. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 63–72.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Lee, E., Spitze, G., & Logan, J. R. (2003). Social support to parents-in-law: The interplay of gender and kin hierarchies. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 65, 396–403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Leonetti, D. L., Nath, D. C., Hemam, N. S., & Neill, D. B. (2005). Kinship organisation and the impact of grandmothers on reproductive success among the matrilineal Khasi and patrilineal Bengali of Northeast India. In E. Voland, A. Chasiotis, & W. Schiefenhövel (Eds.), Grandmotherhood: The evolutionary significance of the second half of female life (pp. 194–214). New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Marlowe, F. (2000). The patriarch hypothesis: An alternative explanation of menopause. Human Nature, 11, 27–42.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. McBurney, D., Simon, J., Gaulin, S. J. C., & Geliebter, A. (2002). Matrilateral biases in the investment of aunts and uncles: Replication in a population presumed to have high paternity uncertainty. Human Nature, 13, 391–402.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Michalski, R. L., & Shackelford, T. K. (2005). Grandparental investment as a function of relational uncertainty and emotional closeness with parent. Human Nature, 16, 293–305.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Monserud, M. A. (2008). Intergenerational relationships and affectual solidarity between grandparents and young adults. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 70, 182–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Pashos, A. (2000). Does paternal uncertainty explain discriminative grandparental solicitude? A cross-cultural study in Greece and Germany. Evolution and Human Behavior, 21, 97–109.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Pashos, A., & McBurney, D. H. (2008). Kin relationships and the caregiving biases of grandparents, aunts and uncles: A two generational questionnaire study. Human Nature, 19, 311–330.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Pashos, A., Schwarz, S., & Bjorklund, D. F. (2016). Kin investment by step-grandparents–more than expected. Evolutionary Psychology, 14, 1–13. doi:10.1177/1474704916631213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Perry, G., Daly, M., & Macfarlan, S. (2014). Maternal foster families provide more stable placements than paternal families. Children and Youth Services Review, 46, 155–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ragsdale, G. (2004). Grandmothering in Cambridgeshire, 1770–1861. Human Nature, 15, 301–317.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Russell, R. J. H., & Wells, P. A. (1987). Estimating paternity confidence. Ethology and Sociobiology, 8, 215–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Salmon, C. A. (1999). On the impact of sex and birth order on contact with kin. Human Nature, 10, 183–197.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Schiefenhövel, W., & Grabolle, A. (2005). The role of maternal grandmothers in Tobriand adoptions. In E. Voland, A. Chasiotis, & W. Schiefenhövel (Eds.), Grandmotherhood. The evolutionary significance of the second half of female life (pp. 177–193). New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Sear, R., & Mace, R. (2008). Who keeps children alive? A review of the effects of kin on child survival. Evolution and Human Behavior, 29, 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sear, R., Mace, R., & McGregor, I. A. (2000). Maternal grandmothers improve the nutritional status and survival of children in rural Gambia. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B, Biological Sciences, 267, 461–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Smith, M. S. (1988). Research in developmental sociobiology: Parenting and family behavior. In K. B. Mac-Donald (Ed.), Sociobiological perspectives on human development (pp. 271–292). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sorenson Jamison, C., Cornell, L. L., Jamison, P. L., & Nakazato, H. (2002). Are all grandmothers equal? A review and a preliminary test of the “grandmother hypothesis” in Tokugawa Japan. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 119, 67–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Strassmann, B. I., & Garrard, W. M. (2011). Alternatives to the grandmother hypothesis: A meta-analysis of the association between grandparental and grandchild survival in patrilineal populations. Human Nature, 22, 201–222.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Voland, E., & Beise, J. (2002). Opposite effects of maternal and paternal grandmothers on infant survival in historical Krummhörn. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 52, 435–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Social AnthropologyHalle (Saale)Germany

Section editors and affiliations

  • Nicole Barbaro
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyOakland UniversityRochesterUSA