CIPD Applied Research Conference 2020

  • Laura Airey (Speaker)
  • Jakov Jandric (Speaker)

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference


Grandparents at Work: The implications of unpaid childcare on employment of workers over 50

This paper considers the implications of unpaid childcare on grandparents’ employment and careers. In light of the increased economic and public policy imperatives to delay retirement and extend working lives, we investigate the ways in which provision of non-custodial grandparent care affects employment of the over-50s in the UK. Our qualitative study of 55 participants suggested that around half of the sample made some changes to their employment in order to accommodate the grandparental role. Their decision to either reduce their paid work, or completely leave the labour market was strongly influenced by their gender, social class and marital status.Research focus, rationale and questions (maximum 250 words)Recently, baby boomers (people born between 1945 and 1964) have been portrayed as a problem generation (Phillipson, 2008); as a generation that benefitted from full employment, welfare state, accessible home ownership and free education. As a result, baby boomers are considered to be a privileged generation which is now increasingly a burden on younger generations, both as a centre of political power (Willets, 2010), and as the beneficiaries of pensions and healthcare paid for by the younger generations. Such perspectives on baby boomers, however, seem to neglect the contributions and the activities of this generation in contemporary family lives, and particularly in relation to the increasingly common provision of unpaid childcare for their grandchildren (Wellard, 2011; Huskinson et al, 2016; Rutter and Evans, 2011). This is particularly relevant when considering the recent trends in Great Britain, which suggest that adults become grandparents in their mid-fifties (Leopold and Scopek, 2015). In this sense, the provision of grandparental childcare may have implications for grandparents’ own careers and financial circumstances in later life. In light of this, we consider one main question: What are the implications of grandparents’ unpaid childcare provision on their career decisions? This question is of high practical relevance for organisations in light of the challenges brought forward by the demographic trends, and the increased policy interest in extending working lives of workers over 50 years of age. Research methods (maximum 150 words)To explore the research questions, we conducted 55 interviews with baby boomer-aged grandparents in Sussex and Edinburgh, all of whom provide unpaid childcare regularly for one or more grandchildren. Purposive sampling ensured we achieved a diverse sample in terms of childcare responsibilities, household composition, household income, and employment status.During the interviews, participants discussed a range of topics to contextualise their childcare more broadly in their lives. Grandparents were asked to describe the nature and the extent of childcare they provide, and the reasons for doing so. Furthermore, they were asked about the impact childcare had on their lives. Data was transcribed and analysed thematically (Seale, Gobo, Gubrium and Silverman, 2007), and was coded for key themes using NVivo 11 software toolkit.Research findings or argument (maximum 250 words)A striking finding from the study was that half of the sample group reported making some form of change to their employment in order to provide childcare for their grandchildren, with both grandmothers and grandfathers seeking to increase the time available for childcare. Some grandparents used flexible work options to provide childcare when needed, while at the same time retaining employment. Others reduced their work hours or the number of workdays. The data suggests that some grandparents were prepared and willing to reduce their own income in order to provide free childcare for their grandchildren and thus enable their adult children to pursue paid work. Some grandparents chose to leave the labour market altogether in order to provide unpaid childcare. Our findings suggest that their decision to reduce the number of hours in work, or leave employment altogether was significantly affected by gender, social class and marital status. Only the grandparents who had financial stability were able to retire completely, with most participants needing to balance between their financial circumstances and the childcare needs. For those still in paid employment, working until and beyond State Pension age was a necessity. This was particularly the case with grandmothers who had previously taken time out of the labour market to care for their own children, and were thus unable to build up adequate pension savings. Income from paid employment was even more necessary for divorced grandmothers, who were financially less secure. Practical importance and implications of research (maximum 250 words).The implications of this research are two-fold. The findings suggest that baby boomers, while considered to be selfish and a burden to younger generations, seem to be an important source of informal family support. Their provision of free childcare for grandchildren allows their adult children not only to save on the increasingly high costs of formal childcare, but also provides flexibility to pursue wider employment opportunities.. This situation, however, has significant implications for workers over 50; as our findings suggest that over 50% of the sample has made changes in their employment circumstances to accommodate to childcare needs. These findings are important as they indicate a picture at odds with policy assumptions that over-50s want to extend their (paid) working lives and simply need to be made aware of the opportunities, or indeed that they may be forced to work longer to accumulate better pensions. Our findings contribute to a body of evidence that advocates caution to this over-simplistic view. In reality, the picture is more complex – older workers are making decisions not just in light of their own needs, circumstances and aspirations, but often as part of extended family units and complex domestic contexts. If employers are to meet their own and government targets for increased older worker employment (one million more over-50s by 2022, BITC, 2017), they need to be aware of the nuances of this labour market and to ensure an appropriate balance between individuals’ familial obligations and personal aspirations, and organisational HR requirements.
Period23 Jan 2020
Event typeConference
LocationDublin, IrelandShow on map
Degree of RecognitionNational