1 in 10 U.S. children live with a grandparent

White families largely account for increase, 2009 census data show

One in 10 American children lived in a home with a grandparent in 2009, a 64 percent jump from two decades ago, the U.S. Census Bureau said Wednesday.

While the vast majority of the 7.8 million children living with grandparents were in “three-generation” families, almost a quarter of those children were being raised by their grandparents alone.

Although the bureau does not explore why family trends occur, it found that white families accounted for many of the new households with grandparents, said Renee Ellis, co-author of the bureau’s new report on the 2009 living arrangements of 74.1 million U.S. children.

Hispanic and black families have long had higher percentages of homes with grandparents - in 1991, 12 percent of Hispanic children and 15 percent of black children lived with a grandparent in the home, Ms. Ellis said. Those numbers rose to 14 percent and 17 percent, respectively, in 2009, but these were not considered significant changes, she said.

Among white families, however, the number of children who lived with a grandparent jumped from 5 percent in 1991 to 9 percent in 2009, the bureau said. In addition, the bureau found significant increases in white and Hispanic children who were being raised only by their grandparents, with no parent present.

Between 1991 and 2009, the number of white and Hispanic children living only with grandparents virtually doubled, to 1 million and 408,000 children, respectively. The number of black children living only with their grandparents reached 619,000 in 2009, but this reflected the same percentage of children as in 1991, the bureau said.

The recent recession is a likely reason for why there are more three-generational homes now than in 1991, when 4.7 million children lived in homes with grandparents.

The past few years “have not been easy for families financially,” said Amy Goyer, AARP’s family expert. “What families do in tough times is come together.”

In April, the AARP Public Policy Institute analyzed U.S. Census Bureau data for 2009 and 2010, and found that the number of multigenerational households “grew faster” during those two years than any other two-year period since 2000.

Unemployment, housing crises and rising expenses were surely reasons for many parents, children and grandparents to start living together, Ms. Goyer said. In addition, many baby boomers are part of the “sandwich generation” and end up caring for elderly parents and children at the same time.

A third reason why children might live with their grandparents is that their parents are not able to care for them, Ms. Goyer said. This could include military parents who are deployed for long periods. It could also mean the parents are ill or addicted, and the children are placed with their grandparents in a formal or informal kinship-care arrangement.

Living in three-generation homes is often beneficial and “is like going back to our roots” as a nation, Ms. Goyer said.

Children typically receive extra love and attention from grandparents when they live with them, and grandparents can feel connected and happy to contribute to their families, she said.

If problems arise, good communication, private space for everyone and a willingness to facilitate loving interactions can smooth out many challenges, she added.

Other highlights in “Living Arrangements of Children: 2009”:

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About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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