Intergenerational relationships between grandparents and grandchildren can offer tremendous benefits to family members of each generation. For grandparents, grandchildren are often important sources of emotional meaning and support (Silverstein and Long, 1998), and can have positive effects on physical and mental health and cognitive functioning (Arpino and Bordone, 2014; Di Gessa et al., 2016; Szinovacz and Davey, 2006). For grandchildren, grandparents can offer important inputs for social development or economic wellbeing (Chan and Bolivar, 2013; Knugge, 2016; Silverstein and Ruiz, 2006). The middle generation also often benefits from grandparents and grandchildren spending time together and receives important support with childrearing (Aassve et al., 2012; Arpino et al., 2014; Igel and Szydlik, 2011).
When grandparenthood begins and how long it lasts are determined by the demography of the family (Arpino et al., 2017; Margolis, 2016). The transition to grandparenthood occurs when one's child becomes a parent for the first time. Unlike becoming a parent and many other life-course events, the transition to grandparenthood has been labelled a countertransition (Hagestad and Neugarten, 1985) because its occurrence and timing are not determined by the persons themselves but rather by their adult children and their partners’ transition to parenthood. The length of grandparenthood is the period of time that begins at the birth of one's first grandchild until the end of the grandparent's life (Margolis, 2016). At the population level, a variety of social and demographic factors affect when grandparenthood generally starts, how long it lasts and the demographic characteristics of the population of grandparents. The demography of grandparenthood – the timing, length and population characteristics – shape the extent to which young children have grandparents available, how many grandparents are alive and the duration of overlap with grandparents (Leopold and Skopek, 2015a, 2015b; Margolis, 2016). Kin availability is important to understand because it is a necessary condition for having close intergenerational relationships and garnering the benefits that they can offer.
In this chapter, we examine how the demography of grandparenthood varies across 16 countries in Europe and two countries in North America, and why it is changing. These countries represent great variation in contexts with different grandparenting norms, labour-force participation patterns and demographics.