Last week, India became the world’s most populous country as the Chinese census showed that the Chinese population is now on the decline joining its neighbour Japan and much of the developed world. This change in demographics thanks to lower fertility rates and lower mortality rates has also left the world with an ageing population. The Economist’s piece shows that the ratio of grandparents to grandchildren in the world is indeed at its highest ever. This has socioeconomic ramifications.
“…the number of grandparents in the world has roughly trebled since 1960, to 1.5bn, and the ratio of grandparents to children under 15 has jumped from 0.46 in 1960 to 0.8 today. This matters because grandparents pass on knowledge and traditions and maintain a family’s links with the past. More vitally, they help bring up children, and free mothers to work outside the home.
Many parents are happier entrusting their children to their grandma than to anyone else. (Grandpas do much less child care, though more than in the past.) Grandparents love the kids, do not need paying and are often available at short notice. In Mexico grandmothers help look after nearly 40% of children under six. During an average week in America, 50% of very young children and 35% of primary-schoolers see a grandparent.
Numerous studies find that mothers with granny-nannies earn more than they otherwise would. One way to measure this is to observe what happens when a grandmother dies. In Mexico working mothers who relied on a grandmother but lost her saw their earnings fall by half.
…Grandparents’ care is good for grandchildren, too. In parts of Africa the presence of a grandmother makes it more likely that a child will survive. In the rich world it is unclear whether the presence of grandparents boosts academic scores or social skills, but it certainly doesn’t hurt them. Granted, children raised solely by a grandmother do badly, but that is because their parents are presumably dead, in prison or absent for some other reason. Living with her is better than living with a stranger, or in an orphanage.
Care from grandparents does have some disadvantages. Families that rely on it are less likely to move to another city for a better job. So they often end up earning less than they could have. Also, grandmothers often retire early, or work less hours, to make time for their grandchildren. If this is what they choose, fine. But it means that the gains to society from helping mothers into the labour force are partly offset by grandmothers leaving it.”
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