More than half of grandparents look after their grandchildren while their parents are at work - and new research shows who's most likely to help out

As children work full-time and childcare costs continue to increase, grandparents are finding themselves looking after their grandkids more and more

grandmother with her grandkids
(Image credit: Getty Images)

New research has revealed that more than half of all grandparents care for their grandchildren during the week while their own kids are at work - but one grandparent in particular is stepping up to look after them. 

All parents know that the cost of raising a child is expensive and, with average childcare costs remaining high, a worrying 85% of parents say that childcare costs are preventing them from having more kids - even though the government has pledged to make 30-hours free childcare available to all eligible parents

It's perhaps unsurprising that while many companies start to encourage employees to return to the office (even though working from home keeps mothers in employment), parents are turning to their own parents - their kids' grandparents - for help. 

Research conducted by SunLife, an over-50s insurance specialist, has found that more than half of grandparents now care for their grandchildren during the working week, saving families a whopping £96bn every single year in childcare costs. It's great news for parents who need to cut costs, but for grandparents who thought their child-rearing days were over, the news is likely bittersweet. 

While many grandparents happily care for their grandkids, others aren't so keen and many millennials have been left complaining that their parents are too busy to look after grandkids. But it's not always grandparents, plural, who are giving their precious time to childcare. More often that not, it's specifically grannies who are acting as unpaid nannies to their grandchildren.

Data from Age UK shows that women are nearly three times more likely to retire from their jobs in order to care for a family member, and that doesn't include the number who have gone part time or reduced their working hours to better fit around their childcare demands.

And it's not like they're just helping out here and there. According to SunLife, the average grandparent is offering free labour worth more than £13,000 a year. 

Speaking to the Financial Times, Clare Moffat, a pensions and legal expert at Royal London, said, “A lot of grandparents are doing this to make sure their adult children can work full-time and can earn the money to pay the mortgage. But, if you stop work or reduce your hours, what impact is that going to have on your retirement?”

However, while it feels like an only-option solution for grandparents to look after their grandkids as parents work around the clock, grandparents are getting something out of the arrangement. Grandparents say they learn more from their grandkids than their own children, with the youngsters bringing in excitement and learning into their everyday. That bonding time is important for both generations and it's even been found that children who have a good relationship with their grandparents have less behavioural and emotional problems. So, in place of a real solution to the problem, there are at least some silver linings to appreciate. 

There seems to be no solution to the problem for grandparents, their children, and their grandchildren. Some think it's unlikely that the government can actually deliver on its free childcare promise, leaving many families stuck. But, for now at least, stresses can be managed with the help of expert tips for parents struggling with costs, as well as with help to alleviate worries about how much nursery, or other childcare options, such as wrap around care, might cost. 

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse
Royal News and Entertainment writer

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse is royal news and entertainment writer for She began her freelance journalism career after graduating from Nottingham Trent University with an MA in Magazine Journalism, receiving an NCTJ diploma, and earning a First Class BA (Hons) in Journalism at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. She has also worked with BBC Good Food and The Independent.