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Since the start of the Great Recession, more
Children raised by Grandparents
by Gretchen Livingston and Kim Parker, Pew
September 9, 2010
September 2010--One child in ten in the United States lives
with a grandparent, a share that increased
slowly and steadily over the past decade
before rising sharply from 2007 to 2008, the
first year of the Great Recession, according
to a new Pew Research Center analysis of
U.S. Census Bureau data.
four-in-ten (41%) of those children who live
with a grandparent (or grandparents) are
also being raised primarily by that
to the Census data.
This figure -- 2.9 million children2--
rose slowly throughout the decade and it,
too, spiked from 2007 to 2008. In that
single year, there was a 6% increase.
The phenomenon of grandparents serving as
primary caregivers is more common among
blacks3and Hispanics than among
the sharpest rise since the recession began
has been among whites.
The number of white grandparents primarily
responsible for their grandchildren rose by
9% from 2007 to 2008, compared with an
increase of just 2% among black grandparents
and no change among Hispanic grandparents.
Almost half (49%) of children being raised
by grandparents also live with a single
parent. For about four-in-ten (43%) of these
children, there is no parent in the
household. About 8% have both parents in the
household, in addition to the caregiver
or not they live with and raise their
grandchildren, being a grandparent is
central to the lives of most older
Americans. According to a 2009
Pew Research Center survey, 80%
of those ages 65 and older have
grandchildren, as do 51% of those ages
survey finds that grandparents place a
premium on time spent with their
Just as the number of children being cared
for by their grandparents has increased from
2000 to 2008, the corresponding number of
grandparents serving as primary caregivers
to their grandchildren increased 8%, from
2.4 million in 2000 to 2.6 million in 2008.
Three percent of that increase occurred from
2000 to 2007, and 5% occurred from 2007 to
Among grandparents who serve as primary
caregivers for grandchildren, there are
notable differences by race, ethnicity and
income. More than half of grandparent
primary caregivers (53%) are white, while
24% are African American, 18% are Hispanic
and 3% are Asians. In comparison, in the
population ages 50 and older, 78% are white,
10% are black, 8% are Hispanic and 4% are
grandparents who serve as primary caregivers
for their grandchildren are
disproportionately black and Hispanic, the
increase in grandparent primary caregiving
across the decade has been much more
pronounced among whites. From 2000 to 2008,
there was a 19% increase in the number of
white grandparents caring for their
There has been a smaller, but still notable
increase in Hispanic grandparents serving as
primary caregivers since 2000, which may be
linked to the increasing size of the older
Hispanic population in the U.S. By contrast,
the number of blacks serving as grandparents
declined by 12%.6
For the most part, grandparent caregivers
have very limited financial resources.
Nearly one-in-five (18%) are living below
the poverty line,7 while
47% have household incomes that fall between
one- and three-times the poverty line. In
comparison, among the population ages 50 and
older, 8% are below the poverty line, and
32% are living on an income that is between
one- and three-times the poverty rate.
From 2000 to 2008, grandparents with incomes
between one- and three-times the poverty
level have shown the largest increase (12%)
in caregiving for their grandchildren.
However, much of the increase in grandparent
caregiving since the onset of the recession
has occurred among grandparents who have
incomes that are at least three times the
Overall grandparent primary caregivers are
relatively young -- more than two-thirds
(67%) are younger than age 60, with 13%
younger than age 45. This likely reflects
the fact that younger grandparents are still
physically able to take on the needs of
Some 62% of grandparent caregivers are
female, and 38% are men. Two-thirds of
grandparent caregivers are married, while
34% are not.
The plurality of grandparents who care for
their grandchildren have been doing so for
quite a long time. More than half (54%)
report that they have been the primary
caregiver to at least one grandchild for
three years or more, and 23% have been the
primary caregiver to a grandchild for
between one and two years.
reading the full report at
1. Anyone who reported that they live with
and are “currently responsible for most of
the basic needs of their grandchild(ren)
under the age of 18” is considered to be a
primary caregiver grandparent.
2. This is a conservative estimate, since
only those under age 18 who were the
children or grandchildren of the household
head could be easily linked to grandparent
caregivers. They account for over 95% of
minors living in a household with someone
who claims to be a grandparent caregiver.
3. All references to whites, blacks, Asians
and others are to the non-Hispanic
components of thoe populations.
4. The share of all children under age 18
who are cared for primarily by a grandparent
was 4% in 2008. Among white children, 3%
were cared for primarily by a grandparent.
This number is 8% among blacks, 4% among
Hispanics, and 2% among Asians.
5. These percentages are based on
non-institutionalized adults. Adults living
in institutional settings such as nursing
homes were not included in the survey (see
Pew Social & Demographic Trends, “Growing
Old in America: Expectations vs. Reality”,
June 29, 2009).
6. From 2000 to 2008, the share of Hispanics
ages 50 and older increased 2 percentage
points, and the share of Asians increased by
1 percentage point. Whites showed a 3
percentage point decline, and blacks showed
a decline of almost 1 percentage point.
decline. In 2008, whites comprised 78% of
people over 50, blacks comprised 10%,
Hispanics comprised 8% and Asians comprised
7. To put this in perspective, the poverty
threshold for a family of two adults and two
children in 2008 was $21,834 (see http://www.census.gov/prod/2009pubs/p60-236.pdf).