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Do you know, who lives longer: Grandparents or non-grandparents?

January 2021

Grandchildren are generally regarded as an enrichment for the life of older people. In a new study, ISS researchers Lea Ellwardt and Karsten Hank, together with Carlos Mendes de Leon from the University of Michigan, investigated whether life expectancy differs between people with and without grandchildren. For this purpose, survey data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and official register data collected in the USA over the period from 1992 to 2014 were used. The researchers examined 27,463 parents aged 50 and older.

Overall, the study results do not show an association of grandparenthood with mortality. However, there were some exceptions: Grandmothers who have a partner, are younger than 65, or have 4+ grandchildren have an increased risk of mortality compared to non-grandmothers. These groups may have many social responsibilities with limited socioeconomic and time resources. In contrast, widowed grandmothers were found to have a survival advantage over non-grandmothers. It is possible that the focus on grandchildren buffers some negative consequences caused by the loss of a spouse.

These findings suggest that grandchildren can play an important role in the lives of older people. More research is needed on the potential role of the extent and quality of contact with grandchildren.