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Out-dated assumptions about maternal grandmothers? Gender and lineage in grandparent-grandchild relationships

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-274
JournalContemporary Social Science
Issue number2
Early online date15 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2018


The impact of lineage and gender on the quality of grandparent-grandchild relationships has become more complicated in recent decades. Is it becoming more dangerous to assume that a maternal grandmother will be the grandparent that plays the largest part in a child’s life? In countries with high rates of couple dissolution and re-partnering, the number of a child’s potential grandparents increases as the parents of parents’ new partners or the new partners of grandparents become part of the family. The broadening of ideas about people and relationships that constitute a family potentially puts new types of grandparents on an equal footing with biological grandparents. Loosening conventions around gender and intergenerational relationships, including softening of gender divisions of labour in caring and providing, have led to more maternal fathers and talk of ‘new grandfathers’ who are as hands-on as grandmothers. Yet the evidence to date is equivocal, with counter-narratives competing with the persistence of a perceived hierarchy of involvement, with maternal grandmothers at the top and paternal grandfathers the bottom. This paper re-examines how gender, lineage and re-partnering influence grandparent-grandchild relationships. Using data from the UK, it draws on both quantitative (the longitudinal Growing Up in Scotland survey (GUS) (Bradshaw, Jamieson and Wasoff 2008, Jamieson, Warner and Bradshaw 2012)) and qualitative in-depth interviews with different types of grandparents of children involved in GUS (Ribe 2018).

    Research areas

  • family, grandmother, grandfather, gender, grandchild, lineage

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