Carework’s “Third Shift”: Grandparental Support and Family Inequality


LAC Burkhardt


Sociology and Anthropology


For residence at the Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology at the University of Washington, Seattle during academic year 2018-2019


The growing support of grandparents for their adult children and grandchildren constitutes an important but undertheorized form of social inequality in American family life. How does this “third shift” of carework centered on extended kin support across households reflect social inequality while also serving as a way for families to manage inequality? Demographic and cultural trends surrounding longevity, paid work after retirement, exorbitant childcare costs, and increasing levels of insecurity in family life have led to an underexplored reliance on grandparents, especially for childcare, with differing effects by race and class. Using interviews with intergenerational dyads (grandparents providing childcare and adult children relying upon this grandparental assistance), this project explores cultural meanings of grandparental support across households. Advancing our knowledge of age relations, the project illuminates both inequalities among families as well as complex intergenerational power dynamics.