How Grandparental Death and Aging Affect the Fertility of Adult Children: A Demographic Analysis

Barbara S. Okun, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Guy Stecklov, University of British Columbia

Recent literature has emphasized that in some contexts grandparents play an important role in the fertility of their adult children; yet, less is known about what happens when grandparents age and die. The goal of this paper is to estimate relationships between grandparental aging and death and the fertility of their adult children. Based on individual fixed effects models using Israeli population registry data linked with multiple rounds of census data, we find that grandparental death is associated with a reduction of approximately 1 to 2 percentage points in the annual probability of childbirth among their adult children. The effects of grandparental death are similar when considering grandmothers and grandfathers, as well as women''s parents and their spouses'' parents. Effects remain surprisingly stable across birth orders and do not vary much with the number of children the grandparents have. However, the effects of a death are stronger when the death has occurred more recently, and when grandparent and adult child were living in the same locality prior to the death. In terms of grandparental aging, annual probabilities of childbirth among adult women increase with grandparental aging through the 50s, plateau in the 60s, and begin to decline slightly in the 70s; effects are broadly similar across all grandparents. Given that aging and death of grandparents are essentially exogenous to the behavior of their adult children, we discuss possible mechanisms driving these causal relationships.

While grandparents are confronted with competing roles and obligations in the labor market and in multigenerational families (Glaser et al. 2013), research has suggested that in some contexts, grandparents play an important role in the fertility of their adult children (Aassve et al 2012; Aparicio-Fenoll & Vidal-Fernández 2015; Cox and Stark 2005; Thomese & Liefbroer, 2013; Hank & Buber 2008; Posadas &Vidal-Fernandez 2013). What happens when grandparents age and die? Given the growing research attention that is being paid to the potential role of grandparents, it is important to lay out the contours of the relationships between grandparental aging and death and the fertility of their adult children. By treating the aging and death of grandparents as primarily exogenous to their adult children, we suggest that the effects we estimate are causal in nature.

While a growing body of empirical evidence explores the link between caregiving and financial support on the part of grandparents and fertility of their adult children, studies have been hampered by the possible endogeneity of grandparental assistance. In other words, while grandparental financial aid or assistance in childcare may hold the promise for lower childcare costs, greater work-family balance, and less stress for parents – thus serving as a positive force for (further) childbearing – grandparental help may also be a response to the child-related financial, time and emotional strain that parents experience. If the latter is the case, grandparental assistance may be utilized by parents as a "last resort" under conditions when parents cannot manage alone. If so, the use of grandparental care may actually reflect family economic or social strains and thus may predict lower, rather than higher future fertility.

In this study, instead of relying on reports of possibly endogenous grandparental childcare or financial support, we use data on the living status of grandparents as (more) exogenous indicators of the potential for grandparental care and financial assistance. Few studies of fertility have used the living status of grandparents as proxies for grandparental care or financial assistance, although there have been attempts to do so in studies of women''s labor force participation (e.g. Posadas and Vidal-Fernández 2013).

This study utilizes data which include all individuals from the 2015 population registry of Israel, and provide many advantages: (1) individuals are linked to their parents, spouses, spouses'' parents, children, siblings and nieces/nephews; (2) living status and dates of birth and death of all family members are included; (3) location of residence is available – when registry data is linked to census data – so proximity to kin can be estimated. Therefore, we are able to document the relationships of interest where we have nearly full information about extended families, and in a context where the roles of grandparents are expected to be important (Okun 2016).

Results based on linear fixed effects models indicate that grandparental death is associated with a reduction of approximately 1 to 2 percentage points in the annual probability of childbirth among their adult children, and a cumulative effect over five years that is generally in the range of 3 to 9 percentage points. The effects of grandparental death are similar when considering grandmothers and grandfathers, as well as women''s parents and their spouses'' parents. Effects on annual probabilities of childbirth remain surprisingly stable across birth orders and do not vary much with the number of children the grandparents have. However, the effects of a death are stronger when the death has occurred more recently, and when grandparent and adult child were living in the same locality prior to the death. In terms of grandparental aging, annual probabilities of childbirth among adult women increase with grandparental aging through the 50s, plateau in the 60s, and begin to decline slightly in the 70s; effects are broadly similar across all grandparents. We discuss and interpret possible causal mechanisms that may be driving these results.

References

Aassve, Arnstein, E. Meroni, and C. Pronzato. 2012. “Grandparenting and Childbearing in the Extended Family.” European Journal of Population 28(4):499–518.

Aparicio-Fenoll, Ainhoa and Marian Vidal-Fernandez. 2015. “Working Women and Fertility: The Role of Grandmothers’ Labor Force Participation.” CESifo Economic Studies 61(1):123–47.

Cox, Donald and Oded Stark. 2005. “On the Demand for Grandchildren : Tied Transfers and the Demonstration Effect.” 89:1665–97.

Glaser, Karen, Giorgio Di Gessa, Eloi Ribe, and Rachel Stuchbury. 2013. Grandparenting in Europe : Family Policy and Grandparents ’ Role in Providing Childcare.

Okun, B. S. 2016. “An Investigation of the Unexpectedly High Fertility of Secular, Native-Born Jews in Israel.” Population Studies 70(2).

Thomese, Fleur and Aart C. Liefbroer. 2013. “Child Care and Child Births: The Role of Grandparents in the Netherlands.” Journal of Marriage and Family 75(2):403–21.

Presented in Session 1169: Fertility