Grandparent care: a key factor in mothers’ labour force participation in the UK. Shireen Kanji, University of Birmingham.
It’s probably surprising to most people that grandparents are becoming an ever more important source of childcare in the UK – the growth in the share of childcare they provide has substantially outstripped the growth in mothers’ paid work participation – and that has been one of the most significant labour market changes of the last few decades. Of course, we shouldn’t always view providing care as covering for mothers’ paid work but the reality is that it is still overwhelmingly mothers who change their work patterns when children enter the scene. This study of the UK explores this topic of grandparents providing childcare and is based on analysis of 14,951 children and their families from the Millennium Cohort Study, which has been following a nationally representative sample of children born in the Millennium.
The study finds that grandparent care has had a major impact on the workforce: it has caused mothers’ participation to increase by 12 percentage points, which translates into grandparents raising mothers’ participation by 26% when at least one child reaches school age. The study shows grandparent provided care is extensive in the UK. Overall, 32% of partnered mothers and 36% of lone mothers named grandparents as the main source of after-school and weekend care for their school-entry age children (aged 4-5 years). The study also found that in the UK many grandparents live close to their grandchildren, with around 40% of mothers located within 15 minutes of their parents. Even if they are close at hand, grandparents are not a limitless resource. Little policy attention has focused on the pressure grandparents themselves face to extend their paid working lives as a result of recent changes to the state pension age
The study shows that mothers from all levels of education benefit from the care grandparents provide. Grandparent care raised participation of mothers with degree level qualifications by 20%, which makes a big difference because these mothers are more likely to be able to get work and much more likely to be in work. It also made a substantial difference to mothers without qualifications who were less likely to be able to get a job, raising their lower participation by about 40%. For women without formal qualifications grandparent care can make all the difference in terms of whether or not mothers work. We don’t know whether grandparents provide care because parents prefer grandparent care or because there don’t have any other options which might include the high cost of childcare in the UK. We do know that when formal care in nurseries, schools and childcare centres is available and funded then parents seem to take it but when there is a shortage of childcare grandparent care tends to fill the void. Evidence does seem to suggest that when childcare costs are lowered or childcare is provided by the state the provision of informal care declines so parents and grandparents do not actually seem to be averse to formal childcare. It is hard to continue to ignore these questions about grandparents’ care and paid work when they are at the centre of dramatic changes to the labour market, both in mothers’ participation and in the requirement that older workers should extend their paid working lives to support themselves until they reach the newly increased pension age.
KANJI, S. (2018). Grandparent Care: A Key Factor in Mothers’ Labour Force Participation in the UK. Journal of Social Policy, 47(3), 523-542. doi:10.1017/ -full article