The Unique Role of Grandfathers    

Your Mother with her Grandpa in Nanaimo, BC

Robyn with her Grandfather Hawkes

The following two pages are for a study done by Norwegian sociologist Knud Knudsen. Knudsen concludes that Grandfathers are distinctly different from Grandmothers and play a very important role in the extended family dynamic.

Europeans spend much time with their grandchildren.  Past 70, the grandfather takes the lead. Norwegian sociologist Knud Knudsen sets great store by his grandchildren. In that respect, he is typical of the grandparents in Europe who are the subjects of his recent research. “Europeans generally opt to spend a good deal of time with their grandchildren,” says 67-year-old Knudsen. “And grandfathers appear to be more involved than before,” he adds.

In a new study, he found that grandmothers are clearly more involved with their grandchildren when a couple is younger. However, this gender disparity gradually changes with the years. Among the oldest age groups, grandfathers usually show greater solicitude. At the same time, he has found that involvement with grandchildren naturally enough declines for both genders with advancing years.

Knudsen himself has four grandchildren aged between one and 11 and he is together with them as often as possible for both play and more serious matters. He and wife Gro collect grandchildren every Tuesday both from nursery school and day care facilities before the youngsters start homework, sports, dinner and play. They often devote the weekend to their extended family and babysitting. “It provides new insights and instructive challenges, and gives more meaning to life,” says Knudsen, who is professor at the University of Stavanger (UiS). His study embraces about 5 500 grandparents aged 60-85 in 11 European countries – Austria, Denmark, France, Greece, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and Belgium.

Grandmothers have traditionally had greater and more varied contact with the rest of the family, with responsibility for maintaining relationships, Knudsen observes. He thinks that for a woman, mother and grandmother, norms for caring are clearer for her and she inspires the grandfather. A partner is accordingly important for contributing to the extended family. “That applies particularly for men as they get older. In line with other studies of gender and partnership, we see here that men in particular benefit from marriage..

Unlike earlier generations, when children came before education and job, modern parents are often older and in full work when they become responsible for offspring.” Noting that this is where grandparents come in, he describes this as a win-win position. “Healthier and fitter grandparents who want to be with their grandchildren can be a big help to careerist parents in a hectic daily life. We’ll be seeing more grandparents looking after their grandchildren in the future, and grandfathers in particular.

And women still live longer than men. Although this can vary greatly, a man of 70 has a partner beside him more often than a woman of the same age. “So while grandmothers are usually alone, a grandfather is in a marriage. Having a younger and healthy partner seems to be crucial for a man’s involvement with grandchildren, says Knudsen.

Grandfathers and grandmothers can have very different personal and social starting points . . . . . “So although the latter spend more time with grandchildren than the former, the difference in participation shrinks steadily after 60. Past 70, the grandfather usually takes the lead.”




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