Grandparent Resource Sites

Profile of
Custodial Grandparent Families

Andrea B. Smith, Ph.D
Linda L. Dannison, Ph.D
Western Michigan University

  • In 2000, nearly six million grandparents lived in homes with their grandchildren, representing 3.6 percent of the population of those 30 years and over. Of these co-resident grandparents, 2.4 million (42 percent) were also “grandparent caregivers,” defined as having primary responsibility for their co-resident grandchildren under age 18. (U.S. Census Bureau Brief, October, 2003).
  • Among grandparent caregivers, 39 percent had cared for their grandchildren for five or more years. (U.S. Census Bureau Brief, 2003).
  • Factors contributing to the rise in grandparent-headed families include substance abuse, employment issues, divorce, single parent families, teen pregnancy, mental and physical illness, desertion, death of the biological parent, incarceration, and military deployment (Dannison & Smith, 2003).
  • Children in the care of grandparents are more likely to have a household head who is older, has not completed high school and is unemployed (Casper and Bryson, 1999).
  • The age of custodial grandparents varies greatly. The mean age is generally in the mid-50s (Minkler & Roe, 1993; Smith & Dannison, 2000), with a median age of 53.
  • Children in the care of grandparents are more likely to exhibit learning disabilities (30 percent) and are at increased risk for school retention (60 percent). Over 25 percent of children in grandparent-maintained homes have clinically significant levels of emotional and behavioral problems, compared to 10 percent of children in the general population (Dubowitz, Feibleman, Starr & Sawyer, 1994; Sawyer & Dubowitz, 1994).
  • Children in the care of grandparents deal with many troubling emotions. Feelings common to these children include grief and loss, guilt, fear, embarrassment, and anger (Smith, Dannison & Vacha-Haase, 1998).
  • Custodial grandparents span all ethnic groups and all social and economic levels. They can be found in large cities, rural areas and suburban communities. Geographically, the western portion of the United States has the highest percentage of co-resident grandparents, while counties in the Midwest had some of the lowest percentages. ( U.S. Census Bureau Brief, 2003).
  • White children represent the largest numbers of children living in grandparent-maintained homes but proportionally represent about 2 percent of the population. Higher proportions are found among other racial and ethnic groups, including 6 percent of Asian children, 8 percent each of American Indian, Alaska Native, Black and Hispanic children and 10 percent of Pacific Islander children (U.S. Census Bureau Brief, 2003).

3210 Sangren Hall
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo MI USA
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