This article addresses the role of grandparents as providers of childcare for their grandchildren, and the importance of this role in helping the mothers to enter the labour market. Several childcare surveys indicate that grandparents make a very important contribution, which appears to be sustained over time. Demographic modelling shows that the chances of young children having a maternal grandmother under 70 have risen since 1981, although she is now less likely to live nearby.
New evidence from the UK Time Use Survey suggests that grandparents' help has an important influence on whether mothers of young children do take employment, especially those with lower earnings potential. This help also enables them to work longer hours and earn more. However, employed older women play a considerably smaller role in childcare for other households than those without jobs. Analysis of childcare trends from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) suggests that help from relatives, of whom the biggest category are known from several other sources to be grandparents, has become an important complement to part-time formal care as pre-school places expanded since the late 1990s. Raising employment rates amongst the over 50s is an established objective of government policy, yet it may conflict with the role of younger grandparents in childcare.