Research Study Reveals Modern Role of Grandfathers as Carers

A recent research study conducted in Denmark by Co-Director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing & Senior Research Fellow, Dr. George W Leeson, paints a new picture of the modern grandfather.

No longer are grandmothers the sole carers for their grandchildren, but they are now joined by modern grandfathers.

An article in the Danish newspaper, Kristeligt Dagblad  on 21 June 2011 providing information on the results of the study, cites the example of former chief police inspector, Per Larson who now picks up his two grandchildren from day care and kindergarten a few times a week. This was not possible when his own children were small, as his time was much more limited than now that he is retired.  He enjoys spending as much time as possible with his grandchildren.

Thus, he is an example of one of the many modern grandfathers, playing a central role in the lives of their grandchildren.

This research has for the first time identified this close association between grandfathers and grandchildren.  The study is based on interviews with 49 Danish grandfathers aged 50 to 79 years, and it paints a nuanced picture of who the modern grandfather is. The results show that the grandfathers of today more than ever assume the role of caregiver, in particular in taking their grandchildren to school, as well as in changing diapers and telling bedtime stories. This role has in the past been traditionally attributed to grandmothers.

According to George Leeson this is the first study of its kind that focuses on the role of grandfathers rather than grandmothers.

"We had the perception that grandfathers do not involve themselves much in their grandchildren's lives, but the new generation of grandfathers have a big hand in it. This is a result of societal change - we see how traditional gender roles dissolve. Today's grandfathers are not afraid to show their non-masculine sides and take on this new role, "he says.

Part of the explanation for the new type of grandfather is that we now live longer and are much more youthful and energetic.

Many of the grandfathers in the study regret that they did not give themselves more time for their own children when they were young. They are now trying to compensate by dedicating additional time to their grandchildren. Others, however, had time to take care of their own children, and continue playing a similar role when they become grandfathers.

Christine E. Swane, cultural sociologist and director of EGV Foundation, recognizes the new type of grandfather. She believes this portrays the gender shift these men have already experienced with their own fathers and demonstrates a substantial benefit for both relationships between father and child and subsequently grandchild. 

"Children have traditionally been greatly influenced by their mothers and female teachers throughout their adolescence. It is positive for kids to have more extensive contact with their grandfathers, because they can give them something in addition to that which is given by women, "she says.

Anne Leonora Blaakilde, Cultural Researcher and Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Healthy Aging at the University of Copenhagen, believes that the grandfather's changing role is a natural progression.

"These men belong to a generation who have also played an active role as a father. Therefore it is natural that they also are more concerned with the role of grandparents. We harbour many stereotypes about the elderly in general, but in reality it is not something new that grandfathers participate more in the lives of their children’s children. It has just become more visible, "she says.

This article has been translated into English from the Danish article written by Marianne Nygaard Knudsen in the Kristeligt Dagblad on 21 June 2011 which can be accessed on: