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“Positive and negative effects of the “power of grandparents” participating in childcare: A comparative study of Japan and China”

writer: SUN, Yi (Ritsumeikan Global Innovation Research Organization, Senior Researcher) published: 2018-03

The current state of grandparent childcare (Japan and China)

In Japanese society, the aging of the population and decrease in the number of children being born is progressing, and social problems such as an inadequate workforce, the compatibility of female work and childcare, and waiting lists for daycare are becoming more profound. Underlying these issues, there is a trend toward employing “grandparent power” among the generation currently raising children, who are having difficulties concerning their life/work balance, and the importance of grandparents as a private resource for the support of their children and grandchildren is becoming ever greater (Higuchi, 2006). The “life design” of grandparents living nearby to make it easier to provide support to families in which both parents are working while raising children has also attracted attention (Kitamura, 2008). When it comes to the quality of life of elderly people living this kind of lifestyle, and what kind of effect it is having on the generation who are currently parenting and their children, in urban areas of Japan this is still a new social phenomenon so various concerns have been raised.
In the society of neighboring China, on the other hand, increasing numbers of elderly people and fewer children is a problem just as it is in Japan, but it is normal to lean on grandparents through “co-parenting” or even by having a child raised completely by his or her grandparents until the age of three. In China there is very few nursery schools for 0-3 years old children, and there is a lack of social resources for childcare. However, double working parents are very popular in China, and women return to work soon after childbirth. In contrast to the “M” shape of the graph of female workforce rates in Japan, in China this rate is a stable “inverted U,” and women actively return to work after giving birth. Underlying these circumstances, in addition to socio-cultural factors, childcare support from grandparents can be seen as an extremely important resource. In recent years, however, along with changes in childcare philosophy and values, various misalignments or discrepancies have emerged between grandparents and younger generations regarding their views of childcare. Disagreements or contradictions regarding discipline invite confusion in children, and children are often made to witness scenes of conflict caused by differences between the generations in their approach to childcare. There are concerns that this could have a negative effect on children’s personality development and mental health.
In this research project, a three-year longitudinal study incorporating questionnaire surveys, interview surveys, and field observations targeting parents in the midst of raising children in Japan and China, we examine the status of grandparent childcare and its effects on the quality of life of parents and children. Here we will present some of our findings based on partial data collected up to this point.

Positive aspects of grandparent participation in childcare

In contrast to Shanghai, China, where 26% of children are raised completely by their grandparents and 62% are raised through co-parenting between their parents and grandparents, in Tokyo, Japan, the rate of co-parenting is just 12%, but in both countries we found that the childcare participation (support) of grandparents was a great help to parents. The degree of participation in childcare of maternal and paternal grandparents differed, but in both Japan and China more than 50% of parents or guardians said they “rely greatly” on the child’s grandmother(s). Respondents reported receiving various forms of support from their children’s grandparents, including childcare, counseling and advice on childrearing, help with housework, and economic support, and it is clear that grandparents have significant power to support the younger generation when it comes to childcare. Support from grandparents can be seen as leading to improvements in the stability and quality of life of parents and children.

Negative aspects of grandparent participation in childcare

In Japan, grandparents mostly participate in childcare to the degree of providing support, so there are few conflicts arising out of differences between the generations in their views of childrearing, and children’s personalities were not seen to be influenced by their grandparents attitudes toward how they should be raised. In China, on the other hand, grandparents’ degree of participation in childcare is quite high, and since in more than half of households all three generations live together in order to facilitate grandparents looking after their grandchildren, the extent of involvement of grandparents in their grandchildren’s lives is presumably quite large. Here there are indications that the grandparents’ childrearing has a negative effect on their grandchildren’s personalities. For example, children raised by their grandparents were found to have a lower degree of prosocial traits, and to score higher on measures of instability in their attachment to their parents and intensity of reaction in situations in which their desires are not being satisfied. It is possible that reduced outdoor play and social activities caused by elderly people’s reduced physical capacity has a negative effect on these children’s prosocial traits. The reduction in the amount of time children and parents spend together as a result of grandparent childrearing can be seen as a cause of attachment instability between parents and children (for example, children being constantly uneasy because they don’t know when their mother will leave). It is also hypothesized that grandparents have a tendency to coddle their grandchildren, and this then causes an increase in the intensity of these children’s reactions (for example, crying intensely or throwing temper tantrums when things don’t go their way).

Looking toward the future

This time we have discussed the circumstances of grandparent childcare in Japan and China and its effects on parents and children, but going forward we would also like to examine its effects on the grandparents themselves. Since as elderly people grandparents have reduced physical and mental energy, a high degree of participation in childcare presumably imposes a considerable burden on them. The overarching aim of our research is to think about what style of childrearing is most effective and ideal from the perspective of all three generations.


  • Higuchi, K. (2006). The power of grandparents. Shinsui Publishing.
  • Kitamura, A. (2008). The work life balance of parenting generation and the power of grandparents. Life Design Report, 16-27.


Ritsumeikan Journal of Human Sciences


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Institute of Ars Vivendi. Ritsumeikan Univ.