Grandparenthood in China and Western Europe: An analysis of CHARLS and SHARE

Pearl Dykstra, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Tom Emery, NIDI
Jing Zhang, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Grandparenthood is a fascinating research area that not only brings together three generations and multiple roles in different life domains, but also echoes social contexts across historical times and places. Comparative research on grandparenthood, however, rarely includes non-Western countries. This article seeks to answer the question of how grandparenthood differs between Western Europe and China by using comparable representative surveys of older adults. We extend the literature in two ways by showing that: 1) compared to Western Europe, becoming a grandparent occurs earlier and is universal in both urban and rural China - over 80% of Chinese are grandparents by the time they are 55, while the same cannot be said for Western Europeans until they are aged between 70 and 80; and 2) the role-overlaps with grandparenthood are different for older Chinese and Western Europeans. The probability of being a working grandparent in rural China is about twice that in Western Europe, while the rate is similar to Western Europeans for urban Chinese. Chinese grandparents are also more likely to live with their children than Western Europeans. Conversely, as all family transitions come earlier for Chinese, the probability that grandparenthood overlaps with widowhood and filial roles is similar to the position in Western Europe. Taken together, this study provides an overarching picture of the characteristics of grandparenthood in different societies that are fundamental to the meaning, performance, and impact of grandparental roles and relevant to a better understanding of grandparenthood worldwide.

Demographic changes affect theintergenerational family structure and reconstruct the nature ofgrandparenthood (Dykstra& Hagestad, 2016). With the increases in longevity, grandparents are morelikely to see their grandchildren born, grow up, and even reach adulthood. Meanwhile,along with a decline in fertility, there is also a decline in the averagenumber of grandchildren that a grandparent has (Bengtson,2001; Hagestad & Budrich, 2006; Uhlenberg, 2005). To date, the demographyof grandparenthood has been amply researched in North American (Kemp,2004; Margolis, 2016; Szinovacz, 1998; Uhlenberg, 2005) and Europe (Arpino,Gumà, & Julià, 2017; Dykstra et al., 2006; Leopold & Skopek, 2015a,2015b). However, Cross-national comparative analysis of grandparenthood isstill scarce (Leopold& Skopek, 2015b). Few studies have focused on non-western societies, likeChina. Available literature on grandparenthood in China mainly focuses on themultigenerational relationship and  grandparental care (e.g. Chen, Liu, &Mair, 2011; Feng & Zhang, 2018; Silverstein & Cong, 2013), outcomes ofgrandparenting (e.g. Baker & Silverstein, 2012; He, Li, & Wang, 2018;Zeng & Xie, 2014; Zhou, Mao, Lee, & Chi, 2017), and most of theseresearch employed qualitative methods or quantitative analysis on small samplesfrom targeted areas. What is still unclear is how the basic dimensions ofgrandparenthood in China differ from the western societies.

Expandingon previous research, this study examines grandparenthood using a comparativeapproach in two distinct contexts: China and Western Europe. Firstly, we askhow does the probability of being a grandparent and the number of grandchildrendiffer in China and Western Europe? Secondly, we explore to what extent are thelife course contexts (in work, family, and residence domains) of grandparenthood different in China and Western Europe? To answer these questions, we drawon data from high quality, comparable, and representative surveys: the China Healthand Retirement Longitudinal Survey (CHARLS 2013), and Survey of Health, Ageingand Retirement in Europe (SHARE 2012). Our analytical sample consisted of32,483 individuals in Western Europe and 8,427 individuals in China (24% inUrban China, and 76% in Rural China) (Table 1). Thecharacteristics of grandparenthood we explore are fundamental to the meaning,performance, and impact of grandparent roles.

Todescribe the experience of grandparenthood, probit models were used to estimatethe probability of being a grandparent, and then, zero-truncated negativebinomial regression models were used to examine the number of grandchildrenconditional on grandparenthood. Regarding the generational structures, wecalculate the average of ratios between the number of grandchildren (G3) andthe number of children (G2) to show the linked transition of obtaininggrandchildren. To access the contexts of grandparenthood, we examined theprobability of obtaining each role-overlap with grandparenthood and residentialstatus by using probit estimations. This strategy enabled us to include thewhole elderly population instead of only those who are grandparents. For thecomparison, the simultaneous analysis is applied to Western Europe, UrbanChina, and Rural China. The analysis also controlled for age, gender, andeducation level of respondents.

Ourresults pointed that, firstly, the differences of experiencing grandparenthoodare more salient between China and Western Europe (Figure1 (1)). Theprobability of being a grandparent is less than 50% for Western Europeansbefore their 60s.  In contrast, grandparenthood in China occurred more than tenyears earlier. Over 80% of people are grandparents by the time of their 55thbirthday, while the same cannot be said for Western Europeans until men are 80and women are 70 years old. Regarding the number of grandchildren, ruralChinese grandparents aged 60 years or older have 4 to 8 grandchildren, and eachchild has more than 1.5 children themselves. Urban Chinese grandparents haveless than 3 grandchildren which are even less than Western Europeangrandparents.

Second,the differences across three studied regions vary with role-overlaps withgrandparenthood in work and residential domains (Figure1 (2)). The probabilityof being a working grandparent is the highest in Rural China, which is morethan twice as likely as in Western Europe. Partially due to the later pensionage for men than women in Urban China, the probability of being a workinggrandparent is higher for men in Urban China than Western Europe, while it issimilar for women in these two regions. Consistent with previous findings on co-residence,the probability of being a grandparent and living with their children is higherin both Rural and Urban China than Western Europe. Beyond these differences,our results also indicate some similarities in the family domain among studiedregions. As all family transitions come earlier, the probability of being agrandparent with a living parent in China is similar to Western Europe. Theoverlaps between grandparenthood and widowhood are only similar for men inUrban China and Western Europe, while men in Rural China and all Chinese womenface a higher likelihood of being a widowed grandparent.


Presented in Session 1234: Posters