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The health of grandparents caring for their grandchildren: The role of early and mid-life conditions

8th May 2014 1pm, Room 1/G/8, Ladywell House, Edinburgh

Giorgio Di Gessa, Karen Glaser and Anthea Tinker, King's College, London

Grandparents are an important source of childcare. However, concerns have been raised that caring for grandchildren may come at the expense of grandparents' own wellbeing. Our study examines the cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between various types of grandparental childcare and grandparents' own physical and psychological health, and focuses on the extent to which such associations are directly and indirectly affected by cumulative advantage/disadvantage across the life course. We used a sample of grandparents aged 50+ from waves 1-4 of two nationally representative longitudinal studies of older people from selected European countries, i.e. the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, and the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe. Both datasets provide detailed retrospective life histories, including childhood characteristics (such as health and socio-economic position), and adulthood conditions (marital history, unemployment spells, adverse life events such as bereavement). Health outcomes considered were self-rated health, depressive symptoms and physical health. Logistic regressions and structural equation models were used in order to disentangle how and whether childhood and adulthood factors interact -both directly and indirectly- with grandparental childcare to affect grandparents' own health. Using longitudinal data, we found little evidence to suggest that grandparental childcare provision has negative effects on grandparents' health. On the contrary, our results suggest that there may be health benefits to grandparents who provide childcare. However, preliminary findings suggest that poorer health among grandparents who do not provide grandchild care, or who coreside with their grandchildren, do not appear to be a consequence of care provision per se, but rather may be due to prior characteristics - particularly childhood poor health and adulthood socio-economic disadvantage.