It Takes A Village: Increase In Number Of Grandparents Providing Childcare

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Researchers from the University of Chicago recently found that, while grandparents are an increasingly valuable source of child care in the United State, they also vary in terms of their age, resources, and the needs of the children.

The study is based on the National Institute on Aging Survey from the University of Michigan and demonstrates that 60 percent of grandparents offer some form of care for their grandchildren during a 10-year-period. 70 percent of the grandparents who provided care did so for two years or more. 61 percent of grandparents provide a minimum of 50 hours of care a year for grandchildren. The results of the study were recently published in the September issue of the Journal of Family Issues.

“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,” explained co-author Linda Waite, an expert on aging who serves as the Lucy Flower Professor in Sociology at UChicago, in a prepared statement.

The results of the research reflect recent U.S. Census data that demonstrated the importance of grandparents in providing child care. According to the 2010 Census, eight percent of grandparents lived with their grandchildren and 2.7 million grandparents provide for their grandchildren´s needs. This contrasts to 2.4 million grandparents who had child care responsibilities in 2006.

“We took people who didn’t live with their grandchildren and looked at how many hours of care they provide,” Waite told USA Today.

Based off of the 1998-2008 Health and Retirement Study, considered one of the most extensive surveys completed on grandparenting, the research looked at different types of grandparent care. The Health and Retirement Study included interviews from 13,614 grandparents, who were 50-years-old and older, during two-year intervals to better understand the level of care-giving. The paper reported that grandparents are found in multi-generational households, where a grandparent resides with a grandchild and grandchildren, as well as skipped generation households, where the grandparent acts as the head of the household and cares for the grandchild without the presence of the child´s parents.

The paper provided a number of findings. In particular, grandparents of African American and Hispanic descent are more likely than Whites to initiate and continue a multi-generation household or begin a skipped generation household. As well, while African American grandparents have a greater likelihood of beginning a skipped generation household, Hispanic grandparents have a greater chance of starting a multi-generational household. Apart from ethnic differences, those grandparents who have more education and higher incomes are more likely to offer babysitting. In terms of gender, grandmothers have a greater likelihood of providing babysitting than grandfathers.

“People who were fairly advantaged were likely to babysit,” commented Waite in an article by USA Today. “That seems to be people who want to stay in touch with grandchildren and maybe want to give their kids a break.”

The other 39 percent of grandparents who didn´t provide babysitting were not able to do so due to poor health and long distance from grandchildren or discovered that their teenage children did not necessarily need it.

According to USA Today, another survey of a nationwide sample of 1,008 grandparents who were 45 years of age and older, included similar results. The online research was conducted in April by the MetLife Mature Market Institute and Generations United.

“Grandparents are being asked to help financially and relieve the financial burden of child care, by taking care of their grandchildren,” noted Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, in the USA Today article. “They have a tendency to be healthier and want to be involved in their grandchildren’s lives. They’re not as interested in moving away from their families. If anything, they would move to be closer to their grandchildren.”

The researchers believe that the findings of both studies will have future public policy implications. In particular, child welfare agencies are depending more and more on family members, specifically grandparents, to take over care of children when parents are not able to. As well, data from the U.S. Census displays that 60 percent of grandparents who care for their grandchildren are also part of 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,” wrote Waite in the paper.