In recent decades, substantial sociodemographic and economic transformations in western economies have altered family structures as well as relations between the family and the state. New economic relations together with greater civil and social rights have contributed to changing the social division of labour between men and women. These developments have led to substantial changes in the social organisation of childcare. New demands for alternatives to maternal care have become more common and greater demands have been placed on the state to assist and provide support to families with children. In parallel, societies are experiencing increasing longevity, thus increasing possibilities for multigenerational relations, while at the same time posing new challenges in the provision of care for older generations. Policy settings and societal conditions have entered a new phase of relations where gender, age and time interact with welfare states in complex ways.
Within this matrix of new and gendered demands for paid work and care, how are we to understand the role of grandparents in contemporary societies? As a significant body of emerging research (Arber and Timonen, 2012; Bordone et al., 2017; Di Gessa et al., 2016; Glaser et al., 2013) and the chapters in this volume show, amid other complex transfers up and down the generations, grandparents play an essential role in supporting adult children and grandchildren in the provision of childcare. This has been shown to be driven by many demographic and social factors (Albert and Ferring, 2013; Di Gessa et al., 2016a, 2016b; Geurts et al., 2015; Glaser et al., 2010, 2013; Hank and Buber, 2009), with much less attention paid to the political and policy environments (Aassve et al., 2012; Bordone et al., 2017; Herlofson and Hagestad, 2012; Igel and Szydlik, 2011; Saraceno and Keck, 2010).
While we have increasing studies on grandparental care, there has therefore been less analysis of how social policies shape grandparents’ role in the organisation of childcare. In this chapter, we propose a new way of conceptualising the public sphere by focusing simultaneously on policy impacts on parents and grandparents, as well as the structural and cultural environment. We ask, when looked at in this way, what difference does the welfare state make to grandparental support for childcare?