Population Research and Policy Review 19: 571–590, 2000.
© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
The impact of grandparental proximity on maternal childcare in
, SUSAN E. SHORT
& BARBARA ENTWISLE
Department or Sociology, Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at
Department of Sociology, Brown University
Abstract. This paper investigates the impact of the proximity of grandparents’ residence
on mother’s childcare involvement in contemporary China. Drawing on data from the 1991
China Health and Nutrition Survey, we ﬁnd that the presence of grandparents in the household
signiﬁcantly reduces a mother’s involvement in childcare. Nearby residence of grandparents
also decreases mothers’ childcare involvement, but only in the case of paternal grandparents
not maternal grandparents. These ﬁndings suggest the importance of grandparents as childcare
substitutes and the strong legacy of a patrilineal culture. Our results point to the importance of
taking into account kinship ties that extend beyond the household boundary.
Keywords: Family, Childcare, Grandparents, China
In recent years social scientists have called for analyses that recognize the
importance of family ties that extend beyond household boundaries. This
approach is standard in studies of intergenerational exchange, particularly
exchange between aging parents and their adult children (Bian et al. 1998;
Martin 1989; Logan & Spitze 1996; Ofstedal & Chayovan 1999; Tu et al.
1992). It is still, however, relatively uncommon for researchers to consider
the implications of exchanges that extend beyond household boundaries for
other outcomes of interest. In this paper we examine one such outcome, wo-
men’s childcare involvement. While the presence of childcare helpers in the
household may have implications for the time mothers devote to childcare,
we should expect the availability of non-coresident kin to matter as well,
particularly in settings where formal childcare services are limited and ex-
tended kinship ties are strong. Using data from China, we examine how the
availability of household members, as well as kin beyond the household, in
this case grandparents, affects the time mothers spend in childcare.
China is an interesting setting in which to study childcare issues, because
conﬂict between the role of mother and the role of worker is acute. Labor
force participation rates are extremely high, as high as 85 percent for women
of working age (Zhu & Guang 1991). Further, there is limited ﬂexibility in