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Gender And Relationships

Because more women than men survive into grandparenthood, it is more common for children to have contact with grandmothers than grandfathers. When the differences in the availability of grandmothers and grandfathers are taken into account, studies report that grandchildren have relatively equal and regular contact with grandmothers and grandfathers (Eisenberg 1988). Grandchildren, however, are more influenced by grandmothers than grandfathers in their value development and report a higher degree of psychological closeness with their grandmothers (Hodgson 1992). Grandmothers are also more satisfied with their relationships with grandchildren, whereas grandfathers are more likely to indulge grandchildren (Thomas 1989).

The grandfather role and the grandmother role are differentiated from each other by gender, just as various other social roles are. Grandfathers often play a "head of the family" or "minister of state" role (Bengtson 1985; Roberto, Allen, and Blieszner 2001), and grandmothers play a "secretary of the interior" role characterized by such activities as child care, "emotion work," and "kinkeeping." Considering the way in which grandparents themselves were raised, stronger gender differentiation of grandparent roles is to be expected.

In the past, grandfathers in the United States adopted either formal, passive, or authoritative styles when dealing with grandchildren, contributing to differences between grandfathers and grandmothers in the intergenerational relationship. Over time, however, more grandfathers seem to have begun adopting fun-seeking and supportive styles. This seems to have decreased, if not completely negated, the differences between grandchild's relationships with grandfathers and grandmothers.

Alice S. Rossi and Peter H. Rossi (1990) reported that percentages of adults who stated that "[Target grandparent] was very important while I grew up" are different not only between grandmothers and grandfathers, but also between the mother's parents and the father's parents. The gender of the middle-generation person is also important for grandparent-grandchild relationships, possibly because women in the middle generation are more likely than men to assume "kinkeeping" roles and to maintain close and affectionate intergenerational relationships (Chan and Elder 2000). In fact, it was reported that grandchildren are most likely to identify maternal grandmothers as their favorite grandparents (Eisenberg 1988; Hodgson 1992).

The gender of grandchildren is also reported to affect the quality of the relationship with grandparents. Merril Silverstein and Jeffrey D. Long (1998) show that grandparents have greater affection for granddaughters than for grandsons in the United States. Robert Strom and his colleagues (1995) show that the quality of grandparent-granddaughter relationships is generally better than that of grandparent-grandson relationships in Japan. Although gender roles are becoming less rigid in developed countries, they remain quite rigid in many countries, emphasizing expressiveness (ability to deal with interpersonal relationships) upon women and instrumentality (ability to deal with the actual task) upon men. In these countries, the nature and quality of grandparent-grandchild relationship may still largely depend on the gender of grandparents, parents, and/or grandchildren.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelatives & Extended FamilyGrandparenthood - Prevalence And Increasing Interest, Grandparenting Styles, Quality Of Relationship, Gender And Relationships, Demographic Factors And Grandparenthood