Effects of surrogate parenting on grandparents' well-being

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 1999 Nov;54(6):S376-88. doi: 10.1093/geronb/54b.6.s376.


Objectives: This study assesses whether grandchildren's moving into or out of grandparents' households affects grandparents' depressive symptoms and life satisfaction, and whether such effects vary by gender or race. It further examines whether effects of surrogate parenting on grandparents' subjective well-being are direct or mediated through the impact of surrogate parenting on other life changes, namely, health, work hours, income, socializing, and social supports.

Methods: The analyses rely on panel data from the National Survey of Families and Households, Waves 1 and 2. The sub-sample consists of Black and White grandparents with grandchildren younger than age 18 (N = 1,789). Ordinary least squares (OLS) regressions and path analyses are used to identify direct and indirect effects of grandchildren's move into and out of grandparents' household on change in depressive symptoms and life satisfaction (residualized gain scores).

Results: The data indicate that grandchildren's move into the household increases depressive symptoms among grandmothers. On the other hand, grandchildren's leaving the household leads to reduced well-being among grandfathers. Grandmothers report less participation in church activities and more supports from friends and relatives after the grandchildren move in, whereas grandfathers frequent bars/taverns more when grandchildren move in and reduce time spent with church activities and paid work when grandchildren remain in the household.

Discussion: The findings suggest that effects of surrogate parenting differ by gender, and that they are partially contingent on grandparents' vulnerabilities (marital status, education, and presence of childless dependent children in the household) before grandchildren join the household. Mediating effects of other life changes are relatively small.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Depression / psychology
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intergenerational Relations*
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parenting*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires