Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Grandmother Hypothesis

Whether making family trips across country or simply traveling down the street to grandma’s house, many of us know how important grandmothers can be in their adult children’s and grandchildren’s lives.

Although in the modern Western world, grandmothers may sometimes seem to play a less central role in family life than in traditional societies, historically grandmothers have taken care of grandchildren, gathered food, and taken care of housework while their adult children were busy working in the fields or market place. In some countries today, grandmothers continue to provide these important functions.

In fact, researchers studying human evolutionary behavior proposed the “grandmother hypothesis”, suggesting that after menopause, older women continue to benefit families by supporting their children and helping their grandchildren survive.

While some scientists question this hypothesis, researchers in The Republic of the Gambia found that “between the first and second years, the presence of a maternal grandmother” significantly reduced child mortality. Another study of Canadian and Finish villagers showed that adult children had more children and raised more to adulthood when they had a living grandmother present.

In Ethiopia, where grandmothers “relieved their daughters of heavy domestic tasks” they had a positive effect on child survival.

And while worldwide we continue to discuss how to care for the growing number of older adults, the grandmother hypothesis reminds us that the flow of help is often from older to young generations..

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