As more women enter the workforce either as a personal choice or out of economic need, grandparents are an increasingly important source of child care in the United States. But the care provided by grandparents varies greatly depending on their age, resources, and needs of children.
A new University of Chicago study, based on a National Institute on Aging survey, shows that 60 percent of grandparents provided some care for their grandchildren during a 10-year period, and 70 percent of those who did provided care for two years or more.
The results mirror recent U.S. Census (2010) data showing the importance of grandparents in child care. Census data reveal that 8 percent of grandparents live with their grandchildren, and 2.7 million grandparents are responsible for most of their grandchildren’s needs.
This report represents an upward trend over the past four years of more than 300,000 grandparents moving into parental roles.
Additionally, grandparents are the primary source of child care for 30 percent of mothers who work and have children under the age of five, the Census survey showed.
The UChicago study explores the diversity in the kinds of care provided by grandparents.
“Our findings show that different groups of grandparents are likely to provide different types of care. Importantly, grandparents with less income and less education, or who are from minority groups, are more likely to take on care for their grandchildren,” said researcher Linda Waite, Ph.D.
The study found that while minority, low-income grandparents were more likely to head households with grandchildren, most grandparents provided some kind of care for their grandchildren.
The research is based on one of the most comprehensive surveys done on grandparenting, the 1998-2008 Health and Retirement Study supported by the National Institute on Aging. The longitudinal study interviewed 13,614 grandparents, aged 50 and older, at two-year intervals over the period to determine their level of care-giving.
The results are published in the Journal of Family Issues.
Researchers investigated a variety of socio-demographic settings for grandparent care.
These included multi-generational households, in which a grandparent lives with a child and grandchildren; and skipped generation households, in which a grandparent heads the household caring for grandchildren without their parents being present.
Among the paper’s findings are:
- African-American and Hispanic grandparents are more likely than whites to begin and continue a multi-generation household or start a skipped generation household;
- African-American grandparents are more likely to start a skipped generation household. Hispanic grandparents are more likely to start a multi-generational household;
- Grandparents with more education and better incomes were more likely to provide babysitting, Waite said;
- Grandmothers are more likely than grandfathers to provide babysitting. Grandparents who are married are more likely to begin and continue babysitting, however;
- Grandparents are less likely to provide care if they have minor children of their own at home;
- Grandparents least likely to provide care are older, unmarried and less likely to be working.
Waite believes the finding should inform public policy. Policymakers need to recognize that child welfare agencies are increasingly dependent on family members, particularly grandparents, to provide care to children when parents cannot.
However, younger grandparents are often challenged by the new role as Census figures show that 60 percent of the grandparents caring for their grandchildren also are in the labor force.
“Day care assistance may be particularly needed by middle-aged grandparents who are juggling multiple role obligations — as parent, a grandparent and a paid employee,” Waite wrote.
Source: University of Chicago