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“Non-Familial Grandparenting” in Local Communities as a Resource of Child Care Provision

How Can it be an Option of Social Participation for Older Adults?

May 2017

Senior Research Associate, Makiko Morita


In Japan, local seniors participating broadly in raising children – not just babysitting their own grandchildren – has come to be regarded as one aspect of seniors’ social participation. By assisting in raising children, the grandparents' generation can come to feel a sense of purpose and connection with society, while the child-bearing generation who are in the most active phase of their careers, can introduce the participation of seniors to optimize their own efforts.

A number of studies have examined the role of grandparents in child care, whose focus is usually on familial relationships. However, the knowledge on non-familial care giving by older adults for children in local communities is still limited. Therefore, in this contribution, a web survey was conducted in order to reveal attitudes of older adults and mothers including their expectations and wishes in terms of the actual contents of potential support and remuneration. The respondents of the survey are 150 older adults (50 – 79 years old) who have grandchildren younger than high school age and 150 mothers (30 - 49) whose youngest child is elementary age or younger, and all of them reside in Tokyo, Japan. In Japan, mothers are generally more closely involved in child raising. Therefore, this survey was targeted at them.

Based on the analysis, the following tendencies have been identified;
(1) There is overlap between the content actually provided by grandparents’ care of their grandchildren and the content of services that parents seek in childcare support by local senior citizens. Therefore, it is conceivable that grandparents can be substituted for child rearing support by local seniors.
(2) There are conflicting feelings among older adults on participating in non-familial grandparenting. They tend to wish for interacting with children – especially among grandparents who cannot easily meet their grandchildren – while the grandparent generation feels the weight of responsibility in the care of local children.
(3) There is a contrasting gap between the two groups of respondents in the degree to which they regard expertise important in terms of non-familial care services for children. The parent generation is inclined to favor professionalism. In other words, they consider non-familial care for children “labor with expertise” even if it is provided by voluntary entities. By contrast, for the grandparent generation, child raising support by non-familial older adults tends to be positioned as unpaid “volunteer work” which does not necessarily require professional expertise.

Finally, this paper discusses the implications of the analysis for developing a community-based child care scheme with older adults’ participation as care providers. The general discussion has a propensity to purposely aim for a resurgence of traditional communities when it comes to building intergenerational networks. However, this paper argues that child care policy and practice ought to formulate a scheme suitable for the demands of present-era grandparents and the child-bearing generation. In a nutshell, as the survey results indicate, it is important to recognize the perception gap in terms of both remuneration and required expertise.

Key words; super-aged society, social participation, non-familial grandparenting, child care, Japan

More Information

  • The full text of this report is not available in English.
    The original Japanese text is here.