Grandfathers: Their changing family roles and contributions

Grandfathers: Their changing family roles and cont…
01 Mar 2006

This Families Commission report seeks to redress a gap in our understanding by exploring issues related to grandfathering, and draws on a wide range of published source material. Very little of this relates specifically to New Zealand, so the paper also includes some ideas for groundbreaking research relevant to the local situation.

Grandparents play key roles within families by promoting wide family cohesion and by transmitting knowledge and wisdom over the generations. The importance of the grandparent role within families, to provide nurture to other family members, has been recognised in some countries such as the United States, where legislators have adopted laws regarding grandparent visitation rights for their grandchildren (McKay and Caverly 2004).

However the roles, experiences and expectations of grandparents have not been fully explored, and this is especially the case for grandfathers. Research on grandparents, as individuals and as part of families, has concentrated almost exclusively on grandmothers and overlooked the role of men as grandfathers. This role is significant for families in the context of social and economic change, and is related to wider issues of male identity and the roles which older men can play in families.

This report was produced for the Families Commission Blue Skies Fund by Dr Virginia Wilton and Dr Judith A. Davey, New Zealand Institute for Research on Ageing, Victoria University of Wellington



The objectives of the paper are:

  •  to examine the situation of grandfathers in New Zealand in the context of social and family change
  •  to explore the actual and potential roles of older men as grandfathers, within families
  •  to make comparisons between New Zealand and other comparable countries with respect to grandfathers and grandfathering.


The literature used in this scoping paper was obtained through a wide range of bibliographic searches. Firstly, because the focus was on New Zealand literature, the Index New Zealand database of the National Library of New Zealand was searched using the terms ‘grandfather’ and ‘grandparent’, which yielded very little. The search was then extended to international sources, making use of the licensed database socINDEX, which covers all sub-disciplines of sociology and includes articles and book chapters from the disciplines of anthropology, criminology, cultural sociology, demography, ethnic and racial studies, gender studies, marriage and family (to name the most relevant), using the same search terms. This was supplemented by searches of the licensed database Sociological Abstracts and Anthropology Plus.

The search for relevant literature was then widened to take account of grandfathering links to wider family structure. Edited book chapters on the topic of fatherhood and men’s issues were searched for through university library databases and these occasionally had a chapter on grandfatherhood. However, in most of the texts on families in general the experiences, roles and importance of grandparenthood are neglected topics.

Page last modified: 15 Mar 2018