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Diversity In Grandparenthood

Given all that has been reported about grandparenthood, the most significant general conclusion is the tremendous heterogeneity of grandparenting experiences. That is due, in large part, to the demographic and sociocultural shifts that have taken place over the last century. Grandparents defy generalizations because they represent such a diverse group. For one, grandparents range in age from persons in their twenties to centenarians; thus they might be men and women who are still in their childbearing years themselves or they might be men and women who have great-great grandchildren. In terms of their life stage, they could be fully employed in the labor force, at the peak of their careers, or retired for decades. Such an enormous age and life-stage range among grandparents is mirrored by a similar age and life-stage range for their grandchildren. Although the predominant image of a grandchild is one of a toddler, the truth is that grandchildren are also young adults in their high school and college years and, increasingly, mature adults forming families of their own.

Diversity also comes in the form of widely different grandparenthood experiences depending on race and ethnicity. Although studies focusing on minority grandparents are limited in number and scope, the conclusions are consistent along several dimensions: specific minority groups are, themselves, very diverse and thus, defy generalization; differentials exist in the grandparenting experience based on whether or not the grandparent was born in the United States; and family structures are affected by the groups' social placement in the larger society and must be analyzed as such.

African-American grandparents are an important resource for their grandchildren, especially given the importance of extended kin networks and intergenerational ties within the social organization of black families. For example, despite increasing heterogeneity in their family structure, African Americans are more likely to live in extended and multigenerational family households than are white Americans, and this experience leads to greater contact with grandchildren. Grandparents are seen as playing a pivotal role in the lives of these children, a role rooted in African-American culture and the socioeconomic realities of their lives.

Hispanics (the term here referring to a number of separate and distinct subgroups including Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and other Latinos coming from Central and South America) differ in their grandparenthood experience from white Americans and African Americans. Acknowledging that there is tremendous diversity within the Hispanic community itself, the limited number of studies that have focused on this population conclude that strong familistic ties translate into frequent contact, high satisfaction, and a high level of social support between the cross-generations.

Asian Americans (the term here referring to subgroups including those from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, India, and others coming from Southeast Asia) share an adherence to filial responsibility and gender hierarchy that influences grandparent/grandchild relationships. High rates of coresidence among three generations lead to strong and supportive cross-generational ties, but unlike the case of African Americans, whose extended family structure and households are quite often matrilineal, Asian-American grandparents are more likely to live with their sons than with their daughters. The primacy of age seniority in the traditional cultures represented among Asian Americans makes it likely that grandparent/grandchild interactions are more formal and authoritarian than those of other racial or ethnic groups.

Grandparenthood is a status and an experience that is significant to many older adults. Decades of research have contributed to an understanding of the concept but variations based on age, race, and ethnicity as well as gender, marital, and health statuses make definitions of "grandparenthood" particularly complex. Much in the same way that the U.S. population in the twenty-first century will be defined by tremendous heterogeneity, so, too, will relationships between grandparents and grandchildren.



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Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 2Grandparenthood - The Demography Of Grandparenthood, Socio-structural Changes Affecting Grandparenthood, Grandparent/grandchild Relationships, Diversity In Grandparenthood