Grandparents are happier with baby boys, new study

Photo: istock
Photo: istock 

First-time grandparents feel more content in their role when their grandchild is a baby boy, finds new Australian research.  At least initially, that is.

The world-first study from Flinders University, which was published in The International Journal of Aging and Human Development explored the transition to "grandparenthood" in 318 Aussie grandparents. The recruited Nans and Pops completed questionnaires around grandparent satisfaction as well as other factors thought to impact the grandparent/grandchild relationship including gender, age, temperament and attachment.

Participants answered the questions at two time points - when their grandchild turned one and again when they turned two.

And the results surprised even the researchers. 

"It was unexpected to find that male grandchild gender was significantly and directly associated with higher role satisfaction," the authors note, adding that this occurred regardless of the child's temperament.

Interestingly, however, the effect didn't last: there was no difference when kids were two years old.

"One could speculate that the personality of the grandchild has emerged to a greater extent by two years, and the grandparent is less swayed by gender stereotypes which favour male children," the authors note.

Reflecting on the findings, the researchers cite previous surveys which indicate that parents tend to prefer boys over girls. They do issue an important caveat, however. "The literature on parents' preference for male versus female children comes predominantly from studies of non-Western cultures," they note. "Male children tend to be more highly prized in those cultures, female infanticide being an extreme consequence."

In addition, grandmothers reported more satisfaction in their roles than grandfathers. And the stronger the bond between grandparent and grandchild, the more satisfaction they reported.

The authors say the findings have important implications given the increasing role grandparents play in caring for children.

"Role satisfaction, aside from its probable relevance to grandparent wellbeing, is also likely to be of relevance to grandparents' willingness to provide childcare," they write. "The latter, besides impacting on well-being of both grandparents and parents, also powerfully influences workforce economics."

In their most recent snapshot of grandparents, the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that up until they are five years old, about 50 per cent of children are in grandparent care one day a week and about a quarter are cared for two days a week.