Mothers and grandmothers have always been around. Only two months ago were statistics crunched about them, thanks to the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research.
Grandparents now number 1.5 billion worldwide, up from 500 million in the 1960s, The Economist reported January. As a share of the population, they’ve risen from 17 to 20 percent. That’s from increasing lifespans and falling fertility. On average people today live up to 72, from 51 in the 1960s. Mothers used to have 5 children then, now 2.4.
Even if only in longevity, “lolo” and “lola” are able to catch up with “apo.” The ratio of grandparents to children under 15 years has jumped from 0.46 in 1960 to 0.8 today. Given this trend, there will be 2.1 billion grandparents by 2050. They will comprise 22 percent of humanity, slightly more than 15-year-olds and below.
The impact on humanity will be profound. Evidence shows that children do much better with the influence of grandparents, essentially grandmothers. The more grandparents doing “apo-stolic duty,” the more mothers doing work for pay.
Humans get most of their traits from their mothers and grandmothers. That’s genetics. The female chromosome is X and the male is Y. A fetus with XX chromosomes is female; XY is male. Half of the chromosomes is from the mother. Next generation is again XX for girl and XY for boy. Chromosomes from grandmother filter down.
Grandparents vary from country to country, The Economist said. They’re 20 percent of Bulgarians but only 10 percent of Burundians. Average age is 53 in Uganda and 72 in Japan.
Grandmothers everywhere are an extra pair of hands in caring for infants. With them at home, daughters with toddlers are able to work. In subsistence-farming Senegal most children who survive to age 2 had grandmas living with them. In Mexico an “abuela”‘s death reduces by 27 percent the chance of her daughter continuing to work, and slashes her earnings 53 percent. No effect on the employment rate of fathers.
Grandmothers’ importance goes beyond stats. Their cooking, doing school runs, and reading to grandchildren light up homelife. If only there were more of them.
In Senegal, where children below 15 outnumber grandparents 3.5 to 1, it’s common for granny to have 30 grandchildren and great grandchildren. Common too for her to lead them in discipline and house chores, all the way to religious pilgrimages, and instruction in traditional morals and religion.
By tradition Indian couples live with the husband’s parents. But despite the TV-movie stereotype of the overbearing mother-in-law, chores of child-rearing daughters-in-law are lightened. Same in China, Japan, and Indonesia.
Philippine fertility fell from 2.7 children per woman in 2017 to 1.9 in 2022. The country is already below the replacement fertility level of 2.1. Rural Filipinas have slightly higher fertility of 2.2 children versus 1.7 for urbanized.
Hundreds of thousands of Filipino “yayas” enable Hong Kong, Singaporean, and European mothers to work. A Middle Eastern joke is that if Filipina helpers all leave, GDP will drop.
There aren’t enough stats on Filipino “lolas.” But stories abound of their effect on grandchildren’s academics and artistry. They may not be updated on latest math principles and scientific discoveries. But “lola’s” caring makes the “apo” strive to excel.
That effect is most felt when we lose our mothers and grandmothers. We remember how we slept beside them or chat with them long hours. The scent of their bosom, strength of their arms, and softness of their laps. Their cough, laughter, scolding, encouraging, and storytelling style.
We lost Mommy on the eve of International Women’s Month. She left behind 13 “apo” and nine “apo sa tuhod.”
She was so independent, driving and living by herself to age 83. As a bachelorette soon after the War, she enlisted in the US Army and was assigned to drive a Macarthur Jeep in Okinawa. At age 78 she disappeared from her townhouse for three days, and we had the PNP issue an all-points bulletin for her. On her return, she said she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy by her lonesome.
Mommy came from a line of strong women. She was a radical in the 70’s, taking after her mom, a daughter of a Katipunan cavalry colonel. A women’s suffragist-aunt was the only female to speak before the all-male Philippine assembly, then became the first female judge in the country and female justice in Asia. Other aunts were school principals and district superintendents. There were a smuggler and a “huweteng lordess.”
Mommy endured 43 years widowhood. She died in her sleep at 95, on the same day Daddy died. “Kumbaga sinundo na niya siya,” we sighed. Her female descendants, barely in their teens, will likely be as feisty.
Speaking of which, the song “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma,” topped the British charts in 1980. As you watch it on Youtube, it’s fun to know that those cherubic little singers are now grandparents too.
Jarius Bondoc is an award-winning Filipino journalist and author based in Manila. He writes opinion pieces for The Philippine Star and Pilipino Star Ngayon and hosts a radio program on DWIZ 882 every Saturday. Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).
The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.