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Families Count 2024: new resource on family structure now available

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Families Count 2024 is now available

Stories of Grand-Families in Prince Edward Island (Families, Mobility, and Work)

Summary of a chapter on grandparents raising grandchildren in PEI

November 16, 2022

Don Avery and Gaby Novoa’s chapter “A Hidden Chapter in Life We Did Not Expect or Foresee: Sharing the Stories of Grand-Families in Prince Edward Island” focuses on Avery’s personal experiences that led him and his wife to take responsibility for caring for their grandchildren, and on his journey in becoming involved with organizations that aim to strengthen support for and raise awareness about grand-families.

This chapter is one of many contributions included in Families, Mobility, and Work,  a compilation of articles and other knowledge products based on research from the On the Move Partnership. Published in September 2022 by Memorial University Press, this book is now available in print, as an eBook, and as a free open-access volume available in full on the Memorial University website.

“Of the dozen or so families Don has connected with through his community, he estimates that the formation of nearly half of the associated grand-families were linked to their adult children’s experiences of working out of province and, in some cases, permanently moving for work in Alberta. Parental absence for employment and rotational work schedules led to grandparents stepping in to provide care and create a home environment that was stable, reliable, and consistent.” – Don Avery and Gaby Novoa

Access Families, Mobility, and Work

Chapter abstract

Over 200 children on Prince Edward Island (PEI) live in grand-families where they are being raised by one or both grandparents. Many pathways lead to the formation of grand-families. This chapter captures Don Avery’s conversation with Gaby Novoa about how his family became a grand-family, about the links between mobile work and grand-families in his life and that of others on PEI, and about how these grandparents are organizing to increase grand-family supports in PEI. As an engaged member of his community, with his own family connection to work mobility, and as founder of PEI organizations such as Central East Grandparents Initiative and Building GRAND-Families Inc., Don has observed many of the challenges and commonalities in experiences of these PEI families, family involvement with the mobile workforce, and the grand-family configurations that can result.

About the authors

Don Avery Founder of the Central Eastern Grandparents Initiative (CEGI) and Building GRAND-Families Inc., Don Avery is a dedicated advocate for raising awareness about and fostering support for grandparents and great-grandparents raising their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He has been a grandfather since 1990 and a great-grandfather since 2015. Don has over 40 years of experience in human resources and management. He has also provided foster care for approximately 35 teenagers over the span of 15 years.

Don has also been working in partnership with the Vanier Institute of the Family and Dr. Christina Murray, BA, PhD, RN, Associate Professor, Faculty of Nursing, University of Prince Edward Island, on a two-year collaborative research project examining the strengths, challenges, and opportunities facing grand-families on PEI. The collaboration seeks to increase our collective understanding of grand-families and optimize their well-being—in PEI and across Canada.

Gaby Novoa As a writer and researcher with the Vanier Institute of the Family from 2017 to 2022, Gaby Novoa fostered greater public understanding of the diversity of families and family life in Canada. She has authored and co-authored numerous articles, interviews, and research recaps related to themes that cover LGBTQ+ experiences, death and dying, family well-being, and more. Gaby holds a bachelor’s degree from Concordia University in Communication and Cultural Studies with a minor in Diversity and the Contemporary World.

 

Grandparents Supporting Families Affected by Mobile Labour (Families, Mobility, and Work)

Summary of a chapter on labour mobility and intergenerational relationships.

October 25, 2022

In Families, Mobility, and Work – a collection recently published by Memorial University Press that explores the intersection between family lives and work-related mobility – researchers Dr. Christina Murray, BA, RN, PhD; Dr. Doug Lionais, PhD; and Maddie Gallant, BScN, RN, share insights on intergenerational family experiences of labour migration in Atlantic Canada.

Their chapter, “‘Above Everything Else I Just Want to Be a Real Grandparent’: Examining the Experiences of Grandparents Supporting Families Impacted by Mobile Labour in Atlantic Canada,” highlights qualitative research findings on the challenges and opportunities experienced by grandparents who have stepped up to support their younger generations when one or both parents travel long distances and/or are separated from family for work.

This chapter is one of many rich contributions included in Families, Mobility, and Work – a compilation of articles and other knowledge products based on research from the On the Move Partnership. Published in September 2022 by Memorial University Press, this book is now available in print, as an eBook, and as a free open-access volume available in full on Memorial University website.

“All participating grandparents identified challenges related to three overarching themes: increased roles and responsibilities; a struggle between their idealized/anticipated vision of grandparenting and life after retirement and their lived reality; and challenges related to negotiating their relationships with other extended family members.” – Christina Murray, Doug Lionais, and Maddie Gallant

Access Families, Mobility, and Work

Chapter abstract

Until recently, research on interprovincial labour migration in Canada has paid limited attention to the experiences of the family members left behind. The Tale of Two Islands project was a multi-year narrative study that examined how long-distance commuting for work between Cape Breton Island and Prince Edward Island (PEI) and western Canada impacted intergenerational family members, including workers and their spouses and grandparents. As part of this study, conversational interviews were carried out with individual members of ten intergenerational families in PEI and Cape Breton including with thirteen grandparents. Three focus groups including one with grandmothers (N12) and another with grandfathers (N5) were carried out in PEI. This chapter explores the challenges and opportunities experienced by grandparents impacted by long-distance, interprovincial labour migration and their reflections on how this affects their daily lives. Key themes emerging from the interviews and focus groups involving grandparents included the multiple roles and responsibilities grandparents assume as they strive to support their adult children and grandchildren impacted by labour migration; the contrast between their ideal of grandparenting and their lived reality; and the familial and financial pressures they experience. Focus groups included multiple grandparents who have ended up caring for their grandchildren full-time due to parental mental health and addiction problems often linked to mobile work. Their challenges are highlighted, along with recommended steps to help address these challenges.

About the authors

Christina Murray, BA, RN, PhD, is an Associate Professor with the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Prince Edward Island. Her nursing practice has been grounded in public health and community development. Since 2015, Dr. Murray has been leading a program of interdisciplinary, collaborative narrative research focusing on labour migration and its impact on the health of individuals, families, and communities. She was the principal investigator on the Tale of Two Islands study and the Families, Work and Mobility community outreach project and is currently leading a project focused on grandparents raising their grandchildren on PEI. Dr.  Murray is also the recipient of the Vanier Institute’s 2018 Mirabelli-Glossop Award.

Doug Lionais, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Shannon School of Business at Cape Breton University, where he teaches within the MBA in Community Economic Development (CED) program. He received his PhD in Economic Geography from Durham University (UK) after earning a BBA from Cape Breton University. Dr. Lionais’ research focuses on understanding processes of uneven development and the production of depleted communities, local and regional economic development, and forms of alternative economic practice that respond to depletion.

Maddie Gallant, BScN, RN, is a practising obstetrical registered nurse and a passionate advocate for evidenced-based practice and improving patient experiences and outcomes in all areas of health care. Maddie Gallant has played a role in the Tale of Two Islands research study as a research assistant for the duration of the study. She continues to delve into the data uncovered by the study in order to disseminate and translate important findings to other healthcare professionals in the hope of improving patient care for families experiencing labour migration.

Research Recap: Exploring Grand-family Experiences

Research recap by Gaby Novoa

February 9, 2021

STUDY: Ashley Martin, MD; Daniel Albrechtsons, MD; Noni MacDonald, MD, MSc, FRCPC; Nadia Aumeerally, MD, MSc, FRCPC; Tania Wong, MD, MSc, FRCPC, “Becoming Parents Again: Challenges Affecting Grandparent Primary Caregivers Raising Their Grandchildren,” Paediatrics & Child Health (May 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/30DE5ou.


Families are diverse, complex and evolve over time. These dynamics are exemplified in grand-families, in which grandparents are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren with little or no parental involvement. Counted in the Census as “skip-generation families” (also sometimes called “kinship families”), the term “grand-family” is being used by a growing number of support organizations for grandparents who raise grandchildren.

Grand-families have unique experiences, dynamics, strengths and realities, which researchers Ashley Martin, Daniel Albrechtsons, Noni MacDonald, Nadia Aumeerally and Tania Wong explore in a recent study, “Becoming Parents Again: Challenges Affecting Grandparent Primary Caregivers Raising Their Grandchildren.”1

Diverse pathways lead to formation of grand-families

Families adapt and transition to grand-families for many reasons, including mental illness and/or addictions; the absence, incarceration or death of a parent(s); or to provide support in the event of adolescent pregnancy. Similar to findings from other countries, research shows that grandparent primary caregivers in Canada are more likely to be female, out of the labour force and of lower socioeconomic status.

While grand-families are not a new phenomenon, data from the 2016 Census shows that they are home to a growing number of children in Canada (nearly 33,000 children under 15 lived in grand-families in 2016, up 32% since 2001).

“Becoming parents again” is a qualitative look at the lived experiences of grandparent carers based on semi-structured interviews with grandparent primary carers from 10 households in the Halifax Region. The authors note that the study participants were exclusively from urban environments and the majority were Caucasian. Therefore, grandparent caregivers from other ethnicities, cultures and contexts will be essential to further research on the topic, particularly First Nations families, who are overrepresented among grand-families.

Five major themes emerged in the interviews:

Changes in family dynamics: Grandparents consistently described significant role shifts within their family dynamics once they became primary caregivers and had taken on a parental role, while the biological parents adopted a stereotypical grandparent role of “spoiling their child during limited visits.”

The grandparents reported that these changes in family structures affected their relationships with their spouses, children and other grandchildren, expressing feelings of stress and guilt for not being able to meet everyone’s needs. Grandparents describe as “invaluable” the help they receive in cases where they have children, other than their grandchild’s parent, who can offer support and respite.

Psychosocial impact on grandchild and grandparent: Early adverse experiences for grandchildren often lead to the formation of grand-families. The grandparents interviewed said that the urgency in which children were placed under new care led to challenging behaviours for which the grandparents felt ill-prepared to manage.

The Department of Community Services (DCS) was involved in the cases of eight of the 10 grand-families interviewed, with reasons for intervention including the parents’ mental health and/or addiction issues or sudden death. These grandparents expressed complex feelings of sadness and anger toward their children for the resulting impacts on their grandchildren.

Challenges of parenting later in life: All grandparent caregivers discussed the difficulties of raising children as aging adults and the impacts that their chronic health conditions had on parenting. Many expressed feeling exhausted and felt it challenging to balance self-care while caring for grandchildren and spouses.

Many also spoke about the fear of dying before their grandchildren are old enough to be autonomous. The generational gaps between grandparent and child, rather than parent and child, was also noted, particularly in dealing with new and unknown technologies, such as setting boundaries around social media and screen time.

Resilience inspired by the love of family: Despite the challenges described, all interviewed grandparents said that caring for their grandchildren has profoundly impacted them in positive ways and that they had no regrets in assuming care. Their grandchildren’s well-being was cited as their top priority, and the unique relationships fostered out of the formation of their grand-family was described as one of the most fulfilling aspects of their lives. Ultimately, acting out of love inspired a sense of resilience among the study population.

Lack of resources: The majority of surveyed grandparent households (90%) expressed disappointment in the lack of community and financial supports and services available to them. Grandparents described it as emotionally and financially challenging to navigate the court system and DCS while establishing custody of their grandchildren. One expressed frustration over these interactions: “If you say you’re going to take this child and look after them and you’re the grandparents, it’s different than if I had stepped in as a foster parent. There’s no help for you.”

Since becoming a parent again was unplanned, many grandparents had to delay retirement plans and continue their participation in the paid labour force. Most families underlined financial difficulties, with minimal support from the child’s parent or the government, all while balancing work and caring for a young child.

Greater awareness of grand-families can facilitate evidence-based support

Intergenerational relationships are important for family well-being and can protect youth from risk, especially in the case of early adverse experiences, which are a common pathway leading to the formation of grand-families. While such family dynamics come with their challenges, studies nonetheless have reported that 90% of custodial grandparents would take responsibility for their grandchildren were they given the choice again. “Becoming parents again” highlights the challenges faced by grand-families in Maritime Canada that are indicative of similar experiences across Canada and the United States.

Greater awareness of grand-family experiences can facilitate the development of evidence-based supports and services, or the modifications of existing programs, to recognize and respond to the needs and realities of diverse family arrangements.

Gaby Novoa, Families in Canada Knowledge Hub, Vanier Institute of the Family

This research recap was reviewed by Tania Wong and Christina Murray. 


Note

  1. Ashley Martin et al., “Becoming Parents Again: Challenges Affecting Grandparent Primary Caregivers Raising Their Grandchildren,” Paediatrics & Child Health (May 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/30DE5ou.

Grand-Families Highlight Family Adaptability

September 11, 2020

National Grandparents Day is on Sunday, September 13, 2020, a time to recognize and celebrate the significant contributions that grandparents and great-grandparents make to family life and family well-being across Canada. In many families, they are highly involved in the lives of their younger generations, whether it’s through some degree of co-parenting responsibility with the parent(s) or in leading a grand-family with no parental involvement (referred to in the literature as a “skip-generation” family).

Families adapt and transition to grand-families for diverse reasons, including mental illness and/or addictions; the absence, incarceration or death of a parent(s); or to provide support in the event of adolescent pregnancy. Choice, culture and circumstance can also play a role.

While grand-families are not a new phenomenon, 2016 Census data show that they are home to a growing number of children in Canada (nearly 33,000 children under 15 lived in grand-families in 2016, up 32% since 2001). However, there is little data on their well-being and unique experiences.

The Vanier Institute of the Family recently engaged with grandparents and great-grandparents living in Prince Edward Island to increase our understanding of grand-families in PEI, their well-being and experiences caring for their grandchildren, program awareness and more in the Grand-families in PEI Survey.

While findings from this initiative will be released in Fall 2020, respondents to date report being satisfied with their lives, and most say they are aware of the PEI Grandparents and Care Providers program, which provides financial support to all grandparents caring for children in the province.

The survey is part of the Grand-Families in Canada Partnership between the Vanier Institute, the University of Prince Edward Island and Building GRAND-Families Inc. – an innovative, two-year collaboration that engages with a network of individual and groups to bring together those who serve families, researchers, community organizations and the general public to increase the understanding of family well-being in PEI and across Canada.

A Snapshot of Grandparents in Canada (May 2019 Update)

Canada’s grandparents are a diverse group. Many of them contribute greatly to family functioning and well-being in their roles as mentors, nurturers, caregivers, child care providers, historians, spiritual guides and “holders of the family narrative.”

As Canada’s population ages and life expectancy continues to rise, their presence in the lives of many families may also increase accordingly in the years to come. With the number of older Canadians in the workforce steadily increasing, they are playing a greater role in the paid labour market – a shift felt by families who rely on grandparents to help provide care to their grandchildren or other family members. All the while, the living arrangements of grandparents continue to evolve, with a growing number living with younger generations and contributing to family households.

Using newly released data from the 2017 General Social Survey, we’ve updated our popular resource A Snapshot of Grandparents in Canada, which provides a statistical portrait of grandparents, their family relationships and some of the social and economic trends at the heart of this evolution.

Highlights:

  • In 2017, 47% of Canadians aged 45 and older were grandparents, down from 57% in 1995.1
  • In 2017, the average age of grandparents was 68 (up from 65 in 1995), while the average age of first-time grandparents was 51 for women and 54 for men in 2017.2, 3
  • In 2017, nearly 8% of grandparents were aged 85 and older, up from 3% in 1995.4
  • In 2017, 5% of grandparents in Canada lived in the same household as their grandchildren, up slightly from 4% in 1995.5
  • In 2017, grandparents who were born outside Canada were more than twice as likely as Canadian-born grandparents to live with grandchildren (9% and 4%, respectively), the result of a complex interplay of choice, culture and circumstance.6

Download A Snapshot of Grandparents in Canada (May 2019) from the Vanier Institute of the Family.


Published on May 28, 2019

1 Statistics Canada, “Family Matters: Grandparents in Canada,” The Daily (February 7, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2BnyyFO.
2 Ibid.
3 No comparator provided because this is the first time the question has been asked in the General Social Survey.
4 Ibid.
5 Statistics Canada, “Family Matters: Grandparents in Canada.”
6 Ibid.

Families in Canada Interactive Timeline

Today’s society and today’s families would have been difficult to imagine, let alone understand, a half-century ago. Data shows that families and family life in Canada have become increasingly diverse and complex across generations – a reality highlighted when one looks at broader trends over time.

But even as families evolve, their impact over the years has remained constant. This is due to the many functions and roles they perform for individuals and communities alike – families are, have been and will continue to be the cornerstone of our society, the engine of our economy and at the centre of our hearts.

Learn about the evolution of families in Canada over the past half-century with our Families in Canada Interactive Timeline – a online resource from the Vanier Institute that highlights trends on diverse topics such as motherhood and fatherhood, family relationships, living arrangements, children and seniors, work–life, health and well-being, family care and much more.

View the Families in Canada Interactive Timeline.*

 

Full topic list:

  • Motherhood
    o Maternal age
    o Fertility
    o Labour force participation
    o Education
    o Stay-at-home moms
  • Fatherhood
    o Family relationships
    o Employment
    o Care and unpaid work
    o Work–life
  • Demographics
    o Life expectancy
    o Seniors and elders
    o Children and youth
    o Immigrant families
  • Families and Households
    o Family structure
    o Family finances
    o Household size
    o Housing
  • Health and Well-Being
    o Babies and birth
    o Health
    o Life expectancy
    o Death and dying

View all source information for all statistics in Families in Canada Interactive Timeline.

 

* Note: The timeline is accessible only via desktop computer and does not work on smartphones.


Published February 8, 2018

Infographic: Family Diversity in Canada (2016 Census Update)

Download the Family Diversity in Canada (2016 Census Update) infographic


 

The Vanier Institute of the Family has now been exploring families and family life in Canada for more than 50 years. Throughout this half-century of studying, discussing and engaging with families from coast to coast to coast, one thing has been clear from the outset: families in Canada are as diverse as the people who comprise them.

This has always been the case, whether one examines family structures, family identities, family living arrangements, family lifestyles, family experiences or whether one looks at the individual traits of family members such as their ethnocultural background, immigration status, sexual orientation or their diverse abilities.

These parents, children, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, friends and neighbours all make unique and valuable contributions to our lives, our workplaces and our communities. As former Governor General of Canada, His Excellency The Right Honourable David Johnston, said at the Families in Canada Conference 2015, “Families, no matter their background or their makeup, bring new and special patterns to our diverse Canadian tapestry.”

Using new data from the 2016 Census, the Vanier Institute has published an infographic on family diversity in Canada.

Highlights include:

  • 66% of families in Canada include a married couple, 18% are living common-law, and 16% are lone-parent families – diverse family structures that continuously evolve.
  • 518,000 stepfamilies live across the country, accounting for 12% of couples with children under age 25.
  • 404,000 households in Canada are multi-generational,1 and nearly 33,000 children live in skip-generation households.2
  • 1.7M people in Canada reported having an Aboriginal identity (58.4% First Nations, 35.1% Métis, 3.9% Inuit, 1.4% other Aboriginal identity, 1.3% more than one Aboriginal identity).
  • 360,000 couples in Canada are mixed unions,3 accounting for 4.6% of all married and common-law couples.
  • 73,000 same-sex couples were counted in the 2016 Census, 12% of whom are raising children.
  • 54,000 military families live in Canada, including 40,000 Regular Force military families and 14,000 Reserve force military families.

 

Download the Family Diversity in Canada (2016 Census Update) infographic.

This bilingual resource is a perpetual publication, and will be updated periodically as new data emerges (older versions are available upon request). Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about updates, as well as other news about publications, projects and initiatives from the Vanier Institute.

 

Notes


  1. Containing three or more generations.
  2. Living with grandparent(s) with no middle (i.e. parent) generation present.
  3. Statistics Canada defines a mixed union as “a couple in which one spouse or partner belongs to a visible minority group and the other does not, as well as a couple in which the two spouses or partners belong to different visible minority groups.” Link: http://bit.ly/2tZvrSr.

 

Grandparent Health and Family Well-Being

Rachel Margolis, Ph.D.

Download this article in PDF format.

Canada’s 7.1 million grandparents and great-grandparents make unique, diverse and valuable contributions to families and society, serving as role models, nurturers, historians, sources of experiential knowledge and more. As with the general population, the grandparent population in Canada is aging rapidly, sparking some concern in the media and public discourse about the potential impact of this “grey tsunami.”

However, despite being older, data show that the health of grandparents has improved over the past 30 years. This trend can positively impact families, since healthy grandparents can have a higher capacity to contribute to family life and help younger generations manage family responsibilities such as child care and household finances.

Improving grandparent health enhances their capacity to contribute to family life and help younger generations manage family responsibilities.

Canada is aging, and so are its grandparents

The aging of the grandparent population mirrors broader population aging trends across the country. According to the most recent Census in 2016, 16.9% of Canada’s population are seniors, nearly double the share in 1981 (9.6%) and the highest proportion to date. This growth is expected to continue over the next several decades: projections show that nearly one-quarter (23%) of Canadians will be 65 or older by 2031. Furthermore, the oldest Canadians (aged 100 and over) are currently the fastest-growing age group: there were 8,200 centenarians in 2016 (up 41% since 2011), and projections from Statistics Canada show that this group is likely to reach nearly 40,000 by 2051.

In this context, it’s perhaps no surprise that the overall grandparent population is also aging. The share of grandparents who are seniors grew from 41% in 1985 to 53% in 2011, and the share of grandparents who are aged 80 and older has grown even faster, nearly doubling from 6.8% in 1985 to 13.5% in 2011.

Life expectancy increases fuel grandparent population aging

One of the underlying factors fuelling the aging of the grandparent population is the fact that Canadians are living longer. According to Statistics Canada, life expectancy at birth has continued to rise steadily, reaching 83.8 years for women and 79.6 years for men in 2011–2013. This represents an increase of about a decade over the past half-century, with women and men gaining 9.5 years and 11.2 years, respectively, since the years 1960–1962.

In addition, more people are reaching seniorhood than in the past because of mortality declines at ages below age 65. Data from Statistics Canada shows that the average share of female newborns who can expect to reach age 65 rose from 86% for those born in 1980–1982 to 92% for those born in 2011–2013, while this share increased from 75% to 87% for males during the same period.

People are also living longer as seniors, as reflected in ongoing increases in life expectancy at age 65 – a useful measure of the well-being of older populations since it excludes mortality for those who do not reach seniorhood. According to estimates from Statistics Canada, life expectancy at age 65 in 2011–2013 was 21.9 years for women and 19 years for men – up by 3 years and 4.4 years, respectively, from 1980 to 1982.

Delayed fertility contributes to the aging of the grandparent population since it increases the age of transitioning into grandparenthood.

Another contributing factor to the aging of grandparents is the fact that on average, women are having children at older ages than in the past – a fertility trend that increases the age of transitioning into grandparenthood. The average age of first-time mothers has risen steadily since 1970, from 23.7 to 28.8 years in 2013. The number of first-time mothers aged 40 and older has also grown, rising from 1,172 in 1993 to 3,648 in 2013 (+210%). As more women postpone childbearing until later in life, their transition to grandparenthood will also likely occur later. Today’s new grandparents are baby boomers, a generation in which many women delayed fertility for education and work experience. Their children are also having children later, and the fertility postponement of two generations together is influencing the pattern of later entry into grandparenthood.

Despite the aging of grandparents, grandparenthood accounts for a growing portion of many people’s lives. Even though people are becoming grandparents later, they are living longer as grandparents. The longer period of time spent in the grandparent role can extend opportunities for forming, nurturing and strengthening relationships with younger generations. According to my recent research, the average number of years that someone can expect to spent as a grandparent given today’s demography in Canada is 24.3 years for women and 18.9 years for men – that’s approximately two decades in which they can continue to play a major role in family life.

Despite being older, grandparents are healthier

In addition to living longer, data from the General Social Survey (GSS) suggest that grandparents in Canada today are far more likely to report living in good health than in the past. The proportion who rate their health as “good/very good/excellent” has increased from 70% in 1985 to 77% in 2011, while the share reporting “fair/poor” health has fallen from 31% to 23%. Overall, the odds of grandparents reporting that they are in good health are 44% higher in 2011 than in 1985.

A number of trends have contributed to health improvements among grandparents and older Canadians in general over the past half-century. There have been significant advances in public health that have facilitated disease prevention, detection and treatment. Among other factors, this has led to major reductions in deaths from circulatory system diseases (e.g. heart disease), which has been one of the biggest contributors to gains in life expectancy among men over the past half-century.

Another factor contributing to improvements in the health of grandparents in Canada is the rising educational attainment of this population. Research shows that education can improve health both in direct and indirect ways throughout life. Direct impacts can include enhancing one’s health literacy, knowledge, interactions with the health care system and patients’ ability and willingness to advocate for themselves when engaging with health care providers. Indirect impacts can include an increase in one’s resources (e.g. income) or occupational opportunities (e.g. being less likely to have a physically demanding and/or risky job, and more likely to have a job with health benefits).

Education has been associated with greater health, which is significant because the share of grandparents who have completed post-secondary education has more than tripled over the past three decades.

These are important factors to consider in the Canadian context, since the share of grandparents who have completed post-secondary education has more than tripled over the past three decades, from 13% in 1985 to nearly 40% by 2011.

Healthy grandparents can facilitate family well-being

Grandparent health can have a significant impact on families. When a grandparent (or multiple grandparents) is living in poor health, families are often the first to provide, manage or pay for care that supports their well-being. This is particularly true for senior grandparents receiving care at home; the Health Council of Canada estimates that families provide between 70% and 75% of all home care received by seniors in Canada.

Data from the 2012 GSS show that nearly 3 in 10 Canadians (28%) reported providing caregiving to a family member in the past year, and aging-related needs were the most commonly cited reason for care (reported by 28% of caregivers). Grandparents accounted for 13% of all Canadians who received care, and they were also the most frequent recipients of young caregivers’ (aged 15 to 29) assistance, 4 in 10 of whom cited a grandparent as the primary recipient.

While 95% of caregivers say they’re effectively coping with their caregiving responsibilities, research has found that in some contexts, it can have a negative impact on their well-being, career development and family finances. This can be particularly true for the three-quarters of caregivers who are also in the paid labour force, accounting for more than one-third of all working Canadians.

On the other hand, when grandparents are living in good health, families can benefit in a variety of ways. In addition to the fact that it means they are less likely to require caregiving assistance, they are also more likely to be able to make positive contributions to family life, such as providing child care and contributing to family finances.

Grandparents provide child care to younger generations

Many grandparents play an important role in caring for their grandchildren, which can help parents in the “middle generation” manage their child care and paid work responsibilities. A number of economic, social and environmental trends have converged in recent decades that have increased the significant contributions they make to families with regard to child care.

Many grandparents play an important role in caring for their grandchildren, which can help parents in the “middle generation” manage their child care and paid work responsibilities.

Over the past four decades, the share of dual-earner couples in Canada has increased; in 1976, 36% of couples with children included two earners, a rate that nearly doubled to 69% by 2014. In more than half of these couples (51%), both parents worked full-time, which means they were more likely to rely on non-parental care for their children. This is supported by data from the 2011 GSS: while nearly half (46%) of all parents reported relying on some type of child care for their children aged 14 years and younger in the past year, the rate was higher (71%) for dual-earner parents with children aged 0 to 4 and children aged 5 to 14 (49%).

The evolution in family structure and composition across generations has also contributed to more families relying on non-parental care for their children. The share of lone-parent families has increased significantly over the past 50 years, rising from 8.4% of all families in 1961 to approximately 16% in 2016. Data from the 2011 GSS show that nearly 6 in 10 lone parents of children aged 4 and under (58%) report that they rely on non-parental care.

Sometimes grandparents are solely responsible for raising their grandchildren when no middle (i.e. parent) generation is present. The 2011 GSS counted 51,000 of these “skip-generation families” in Canada, which was home to 12% of all grandparents who live with their grandchildren. Some of those who live with their children are more likely than others to live in skip-generation homes, such as people reporting a First Nations (28%), Métis (28%) or Inuit (18%) identity (compared with 11% among the non-Indigenous population).

Lastly, many parents may rely on grandparents for help with child care if they can’t find quality, regulated child care spaces in their communities. In 2014, the availability in regulated, centre-based child care spaces was only sufficient for one-quarter (24%) of children aged 5 and under across Canada. While this is a significant increase from 12% in 1992, it still leaves more than 3 in 4 children in this age group without an available regulated child care space. The availability of child care (or a lack thereof) is significant, since it can affect whether or not parents in coupled families can both participate in the paid labour market.

The cost of child care can also lead parents to turn to grandparents for child care assistance. This is particularly true for families living in urban centres. One 2015 study on the cost of child care in Canadian cities, which used administrative fee data and randomized phone surveys conducted with child care centres and homes, found that the highest rates in Canada were in Toronto, where estimates showed median unsubsidized rates of $1,736 per month for full-day infant care (under 18 months of age) and $1,325 for toddlers (aged 1½ to 3).

Grandparent involvement can enhance child well-being

Regardless of the reason grandparents spend time with their grandchildren, their involvement in family life can benefit the well-being of children. Studies have shown that grandparent involvement in family life is significantly associated with child well-being – in particular, it has been associated with greater prosocial behaviours and school involvement. The benefits aren’t limited to children, either, as other research has shown that close relationships between grandparents and grandchildren can have a positive impact on mental health for both. Among First Nations families, grandparents have also been found to play an important role in supporting cultural health and healing among younger generations.

Research shows that grandparent involvement in family life is significantly associated with child well-being, including greater prosocial behaviours and school involvement.

The broader context of improving grandparent health is good news for many families, since their better health can make it easier to participate in activities with children and grandchildren, and research shows that these interactions with younger kin can be more rewarding in this context.

Many grandparents play an important role in family finances

Improvements in grandparent health can also enhance their capacity to engage in paid work, which can improve their own finances and facilitate contributions to younger generations.

Improvements in grandparent health also enhance their capacity to engage in paid work, which can improve their own finances and facilitate contributions to younger generations.

While there isn’t much recent data on the employment patterns of grandparents in Canada per se, rising rates of working seniors have been well documented over the past several decades. Between 1997 and 2003, the paid labour force participation rate for seniors ranged between 6% and 7%, but this has steadily increased to around 14% in the first half of 2017 (and an even higher rate of 27% for those aged 65 to 69). Since approximately 8 in 10 seniors in Canada are grandparents, it’s clear that a growing number of grandparents are working today.

The potential for grandparents to contribute to family finances through paid work can be particularly important for the 8% who live in multi-generational households. According to data from the 2016 Census, this is the fastest-growing household type, having grown in number by nearly 38% between 2011 and 2016 to reach 403,810 homes. Similar to patterns found among skip-generation families, this living arrangement is more common among Indigenous and immigrant families, which both represent a growing share of families in Canada.

Skip-generation living arrangements are more common among Indigenous and immigrant families, which both represent a growing share of families in Canada.

Data from the 2011 GSS showed that among the 584,000 grandparents living in these types of homes, more than half (50.3%) reported that they have financial responsibilities in the household. Some were more likely than others to contribute to family finances: rates were significantly higher for those living in skip-generation households (80%) and multi-generational households with a lone-parent middle generation (75%).

Opportunities are growing for grandparent–family relationships

While the aging of the general and grandparent population in Canada presents certain societal challenges, notably with regard to community care, housing, transportation and income security, their rising life expectancy and improving health present growing opportunities for individuals and families. Many grandparents already help younger generations with fulfilling family responsibilities, such as child care and managing family finances, and this will continue in the years ahead – a positive side of the story that is often lost in narratives about the “grey tsunami.”

As the health of grandparents has improved over the years, many have been able to enjoy a greater quantity and quality of relationships with younger family members. As families adapt and react to their evolving social, economic and cultural contexts, they will continue to play an important – and likely growing – role in family life for generations to come.

 


Rachel Margolis, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Western Ontario.

 

All references and source information can be found in the PDF version of this article.

Published on September 5, 2017

A Snapshot of Population Aging and Intergenerational Relationships in Canada

Canada’s population is aging rapidly, with a higher share of seniors than ever before. While this can present some societal challenges, it also provides growing opportunities for intergenerational relationships, since younger people have a greater likelihood of having more seniors and elders in their lives. Population aging has an impact not only on family relationships, but also on the social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts in which families live.

Using new statistics from the 2016 Census, A Snapshot of Population Aging and Intergenerational Relationships in Canada explores the evolving demographic landscape across the country through a family lens. As the data shows, Canadians are getting older, and “seniorhood” is a growing life stage – a time when many of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are continuing to play important roles in our families, workplaces and communities.

Highlights include:

  • There are more seniors than ever before in Canada. More than 5.9 million people in Canada are aged 65 and older – up 20% since 2011 and now outnumbering children (5.8 million).
  • Nunavut is the youngest region in Canada. Children account for one-third (33%) of the population in Nunavut.
  • We’re more likely to become seniors than in the past. In 2012, nine in 10 Canadians were expected to reach age 65, up from six in 10 in 1925.
  • The number of multi-generational households is growing. In 2011, 1.3 million people in Canada lived in multi-generational homes, up 40% since 2001.
  • Working seniors are on the rise. The labour market participation rate of seniors more than doubled since 2000, from 6.0% to 14% in 2016.
  • Canada’s aging population affects family finances. An estimated $750 billion is expected to be transferred to Canadians aged 50 to 75 over the next decade.

 

This bilingual resource will be updated periodically as new data emerges. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about updates, as well as other news about publications, projects and initiatives from the Vanier Institute.

Download A Snapshot of Population Aging and Intergenerational Relationships in Canada from the Vanier Institute of the Family.