A new niche? The theory of grandfather involvement

Document Type

Book Chapter


Palgrave Macmillan

Place of Publication

London, UK


Buchanan A., & Rotkirch, A.


School of Medical and Health Sciences




Originally published as: Coall, D., Hilbrand, S., Sear, R., & Hertwig, R. (2016). A new niche? In A. Buchanan & A. Rotkirch (Eds.), The theory of grandfather involvement. In Grandfathers: Global perspectives. (pp. 21-44). London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. Available here.


Grandparents in contemporary industrialized societies invest substantial amounts of time, money and care in the grandchildren. For example, in the USA in 2007, 2.5 million grandparents were responsible for meeting most of the basic needs of one or more of the grandchildren who lived in their household (US Census Bureau 2009). Across eleven European countries, 44% of grandparents reported to have provided childcare for their grandchildren in the last 12 months without the parents present (Glaser et al. 2013). This involvement is considerable. With rapidly changing family structures and a concomitant change in the potential role of both grandmothers, and grandfathers, research is now slowly moving from a strong focus on grandmothers to understanding also the specific roles grandfathers play. It is naive to lump grandparents together in investigations, as is often done, or to focus only on maternal grandmothers or select the 'favourite' or most involved grandparent. This 'favoritism' in past research resulted in marginalization of the role of grandfathers (Mann 2007), even to the exclusion of grandfathers from research (Reitzes and Mutran 2004), and to 'grandparent' becoming synonymous with 'grandmother' (Harper 2005). We aim to make the first steps towards addressing this blind spot in theory and research. We do so by bringing together research from evolutionary biology, sociology, economics and psychology to suggest an interdisciplinary perspective on grandfathering.