Do adverse early life experiences have an impact on grandparental investments?

Maternal grandparents and maternal grandmothers in particular consistently show the highest levels of investment (e.g. time, care and resources) in their grandchildren.

Grandparental investment overall may depend on social and environmental conditions that affect the development of children and modify the benefits and costs of investment. Currently, the responses of grandparents to adverse early life experiences in their grandchildren are assessed from a perspective of increased investment to meet increased need.

This study makes an alternative prediction that adverse early life experiences may be associated with reduced grandparental investment, as they can reduce the reproductive value of the grandchildren. Moreover, it predicts that paternal grandparents react more strongly to adverse early life experiences compared to maternal grandparents because maternal kin should expend extra effort to invest in their descendants.

Using population-based survey data for English and Welsh adolescents, the study found evidence that the investment of maternal grandparents (maternal grandmothers in particular) in their grandchildren was unrelated to the grandchildren’s adverse early life experiences, while paternal grandparents invested less in grandchildren who had experienced more adverse early life experiences.

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Helle Samuli., Antti O. Tanskanen, Davis A. Coall D and Mirkka Danielsbacka. 2022. Matrilateral bias of grandparental investment in grandchildren persists despite the grandchildren’s adverse early life experiences. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 289.