Grandparent-grandchild relationships and grandchildren’s well-being after parental divorce. Does lineage matter?

Maaike Jappens, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Jan Van Bavel, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

As grandparents are often considered as latent resources activated in times of family crisis, the increase in divorce raises their importance for the support and well-being of their grandchildren. We know little, however, about how important grandparents actually are for the well-being of grandchildren after the divorce of their parents. Moreover, existing studies do not distinguish between grandparent lineages, while evolutionary perspectives and historical studies on child survival do suggest that matrilineal kin is more beneficial to grandchildren’s well-being than patrilineal kin. In our study, we use data from more than 1000 grandchildren in the survey ‘Divorce in Flanders’ to examine the quality of relationships with maternal versus paternal grandparents and explore if they associate differently with grandchildren’s subjective well-being after parental divorce. Results show a clear distinction between grandchildren’s relationships with maternal and paternal grandparents. First, in line with the ‘matrifocal bias’ also found in other studies, relationships with maternal grandparents are reported to be closer than those with paternal grandparents, and differences between maternal and paternal grandparents are accentuated when parents are divorced. Second, we also found that, when grandchildren do have close relationships with their paternal grandparents, this does not seem to play a significant role in their subjective well-being. The strength of relationships with maternal grandparents, on the contrary, is positively associated to grandchildren’s well-being, above and beyond the relationships they have with parents. Moreover, in line with the idea of grandparents as a latent resource, close relationships with maternal grandparents seem to make more of a difference for grandchildren who have gone through a parental divorce than for children whose parents are married.

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Presented in Session 53: Grandparenting