Grandfathers As 'family Savers': Class and the Nordic Welfare State

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 18:06
Oral Presentation
Hanna OJALA, University of Tampere, Faculty of Social Sciences, Finland
Ilkka PIETILA, University of Tampere, Faculty of Social Sciences, Finland
Earlier studies on grandparenthood have noticed that in the context of the Nordic welfare state grandparents often act as back-up resource or 'family savers' in child care: they are ready to step in when needed, but usually not on a regular basis. In the Nordic childcare model, grandparents enable normal family routines particularly in emergency situations, such as sickness, that the public childcare and school system do not cater for. Based on interviews with 17 middle and working class Finnish 50+ grandfathers, we explore gendered and class-based features of the Nordic 'family saver model' from the perspective of grandfathers.

The Nordic countries are characterised by mothers' high labour market participation rates. Therefore our interviewees explained their active grandfather role in terms of pressures set by working life: the caring and assistance they provided was thus not only directed towards grandchildren but also towards their own adult children. The class-based grandfathering practices appeared to be systematic in our sample. Among working-class men these practices revolved around raising grandchildren in collaboration with the middle generation. For middle-class men, the grandfathering practices were based on their purpose to promote their own children's careers by taking care of grandchildren.

Our study shows that the Nordic welfare state is not flexible enough to meet the needs of many middle-class families whose work demands are set by global enterprises. Day care services cover only normal office hours, and therefore middle generations working in global businesses need help from grandparents. The notion from Anglo-American research, which points to grandparents' important role in rendering possible low-waged women's paid work, does not fully apply to Nordic welfare states. Rather it could be claimed that it is the welfare state which facilitates Finnish working-class women's paid labour through heavily subsidised childcare whereas grandparents' support is most needed for middle-class families.