One in ten children live with a grandparent, usually the grandmother who serves as the child’s primary caregiver.  Little is known about how best to support her in this important role.  We believe that when grandmothers are informed, supported and connected, they improve family health and child development.


Dr. Susan M. Love,, 818.677.4456 & Dr. Judith A. DeBonis,, 818.677.4273, California State University, Northridge
—because grandmothers count!

Elevator speech

Although grandmothers across time and across the world play a meaningful role in the family, little is known about how best to support them.  In the US in 2011, one in ten children lived with a grandparent; in nearly half, over 3 million children, the grandparent is the primary caregiver. The child’s parent also resides in the majority of these grandparent led families.

Grandparent caregivers are instrumental in the survival of these families, yet they face significant challenges. The parent of the grandchild is more likely to have given birth as a teen (44 vs 18%); under the age of 26 (31 vs 5%); unmarried (77 vs 31%); lack a high school diploma (29 vs 18%); and unemployed (21 vs 10%). Moreover, the grandparent caregivers are under 60 (54%), women (64%), married (59%), and poor (74% below or near the federal poverty line). Furthermore, ethnicity is a predictor of the role grandmothers play in families and the challenges.  African American children are more likely to be living with a grandmother caregiver.

Grandmothers are in a unique role to support the health and development of their grandchildren—directly in childcare and indirectly in supporting the child’s parent. Therefore, this project will investigate how to best empower (information and support) grandmother caregivers to promote child nutrition, health, learning, and safety; and the grandmothers’ self-care especially health.

Elevator speech

Themes and focus

  1. family nutrition (lactation support, healthy balanced meals)
  2. family health (physical, mental health, social health)
  3. child safety (e.g. safe cribs and bedding, SIDS, placing infants on their backs to sleep, helmets)
  4. child learning (school readiness, importance of talking to infants, reading)
  5. grandmothers’ self-care including health-management
Themes and focus

Rationale for the Grandmothers Count reseach project

Please comment on the following rationale:

“Grandmothers play a critical role in family and community life in societies all around the world, especially in caring for young children and advising and educating younger women on all aspects of family well-being” (Aubel, 2014, p. 7).

Prevalence of grandparents in US society “In 2011, 7.7 million children in the U.S.–one-in-ten—were living with a grandparent, and approximately 3 million of these children were also being cared for primarily by that grandparent” (Livingston, PEW Foundation, p. 1).

 PEW: The number of children with co-resident grandparents rose by 5 percent from 2007 to 2008, and the number of children being cared for primarily by a grandparent rose by almost 6 percent during the onset of the recession in 2007.  Although, the recession has abated, the percentage of co-resident grandparents and grandparents as primary caregivers has remained steady.

PEW divides grandparents into two categories:

  1. Grandparent co-resider: any adult who is living in the same household as at least one minor grandchild;
  2. Grandparent caregiver: a grandparent co-resider who reports being “currently responsible for most of the basic needs” of a minor co-resident grandchild.

PEW divides grandchildren into two categories:

  1. Grandchild living with a grandparent: a minor grandchild living in the same household as a grandparent co-resider, if that grandparent co-resider is a household head or spouse, or parent or parent-in-law of the head;
  2. Grandchild being cared for by a grandparent: a minor child whose co-resident grandparent reports being “currently responsible for most of the basic needs” of a co-resident grandchild.

A third category that was not included in the PEW study is Grandmothers who live in separate residence (Musil et al.) and are actively involved in the support of the family.

The Grandchild being cared for by a grandparent (PEW)

  • Among racial and ethnic groups, black children are the most likely to be cared for primarily by a grandparent—8% are, compared with 4% of Hispanics, 3% of whites, and 2% of Asian children.
  • Among those children being cared for primarily by a grandparent, the plurality (39%) are white, while 26% are black, 25% Hispanic and 3% Asian.
  • About half (51%) of black children being cared for primarily by a grandparent are also living with at least one parent. This share rises to 61% for whites, 66% for Hispanics and 84% for Asians being cared for primarily by a grandparent.
  • Children younger than 6 are more likely than older children to live with or be cared for by a grandparent: 14% of those below age 6 are co-residing with a grandparent, and 6% are being cared for by a grandparent. Among older children, about 9% are living with a grandparent, and 4% are being cared for primarily by a grandparent.

Grandchildren being cared for by a grandparent have multiple risk factors in households [compared to households with no grandparent caregiver], 

 The parent of the grandchild being cared for by a grandparent (PEW)

  • 44% of the parents gave birth as a teen [compared to 18%]
  • 31% of the parents are under the age of 25.9 [compared to only 5%].
  • 77% of parents in households with grandparent caregivers are unmarried [compared to just 31% among parents in other households].
  • 29% of parents living in a household with a grandparent caregiver lack a high school diploma, [compared with 18% of parents in other households].
  • 22% of parents in households with grandparent caregivers are enrolled in school [compared to just half that (11%) for parents in other households].
  • One-fifth (21%) of parents living with a grandparent caregiver are unemployed [compared to 10% among parents in other households].
  • 12% of parents in households that include a grandparent caregiver report that they have a serious disability [compared to 8% among parents in households with minor children and no grandparent caregiver].

 Profiles of grandparent co-resider & Grandparent caregiver

 Ethnicity, PEW (p. 15): 

“A plurality (47%) of co-residing grandparents are white, and fully one-fourth (25%) are Latino. Some 17% are black, and 8% are Asian. Fully half of grandparent caregivers (51%) are white, while 22% are black, 20% are Latino and 3% are Asian. [In the full population of people ages 50 and older, whites comprise a larger share—76%. Ten percent of this group is black, 9% is Hispanic and 4% is Asian]. Furthermore….The likelihood that a co-resident grandparent will also be the primary caregiver of a grandchild varies notably by race and ethnicity. About half (49%) of black co-resident grandparents are the primary caregiver for a grandchild. The share is also quite high—42%—among white grandparents. Among Latino co-resident grandparents, the share drops to 31%, and just 15% of Asian co-resident grandparents are the primary caregiver for their grandchild.

AGE, PEW (p. 16): 

Grandparent co-residers and caregivers tend to be relatively young. The majority (54%) of co-residers are under the age of 60, and 9% are less than 45 years old. At the other end of the spectrum, 17% are in their 70s, or older. Among grandparent caregivers, 12% are less than 45 years old, and more than half (54%) are ages 45 to 59. One-fourth (25%) are ages 60 to 69 and just 9% are 70 years or older.

Gender, PEW (p. 16): 

Almost two-thirds (64%) of grandparents who are living with their grandchildren are women, and 36% are men. As with co-residers, the majority (63%) of grandparent caregivers are grandmothers, as opposed to grandfathers. In contrast, 46% of the population ages 50 and older is male, and just 54% is female.

 Marital status, PEW (p. 17): 

About six-in-ten (59%) grandparent co-residers are married, as are two-thirds (66%) of grandparent caregivers. In the general population, six-in-ten people ages 50 and older are married.

Education, PEW (p. 17): 

Grandparent co-residers and caregivers have relatively low levels of education. Some 30% of grandparent co-residers lack a high school diploma, 33% have a high school diploma, and 36% report that they have attended college. A quarter (26%) of grandparent caregivers lack a high school diploma, 34% have a high school diploma, and four-in-ten (40%) have at least some college experience. In comparison, just 16% of people ages 50 and older lack a high school diploma, and more than half (53%) have attended college.

Poverty, PEW (p. 17): 

Among co-residing grandparents, 17% are living below the poverty line, and 48% are living between the poverty level and three times the poverty level. Among caregiving grandparents, one-fifth (22%) are living below the poverty line. About half (49%) are living at or a bit above the poverty line. The remaining 29% are living at least three times above the poverty line. Among the broader population of people ages 50 and older, just 10% have incomes below the poverty line.

Disability, PEW (p. 17): 

About one-fourth of both grandparent co-residers (26%) and grandparent caregivers (24%) report that they are dealing with a significant disability of some kind. These rates are very similar to the rate among the general population ages 50 and older (26%).

Musil and colleagues built on a longitudinal study since 2001 model of grandmothers

—mediators for family functioning are: (1) Self-control; (2) self-regulatory efficacy; (3) subjective social support—most of the variance explained by self-regulatory efficacy and social support; and (4) instrumental social support. She divides the grandmother population into three groups.

Custodial grandmothers (Musil & Ahman, 2002; Minkler & Fuller-Thomson, 1999) have more health problems and depression; and live in poverty. Plus 13% of the kids have emotional problems. Intergenerational stress.

Need support and skills re intergenerational conflict. May also need parenting skills.

Multigenerational homes (Choi, 2003)—shared living can help the adult-child and mutual benefits.  Expectation of child care and also can deter teen pregnancy, but over time is stressful, less rewarding and poorer perceived family functioning.

Need support and skills around intergenerational conflict.

Grandmothers who live in separate residence—see their role as an extension of parenting.  Although, may report a good relationship with adult-children, if the adult-child is married, then the GM wellbeing is linked to the son or da-in-law which is possibly a source of intrafamilial STRESS!

Need support and skills around intrafamilial stress, relationship skills.

GRANDMOTHERS PROJECT: “On the other hand, there are resources within families and communities that are often overlooked, or considered barriers to good nutrition. Grandmothers are one such central, but largely undervalued, community and family resource. Grandmothers are highly respected within most non-Western cultures. They advise and guide younger generations on a variety of issues related to family life, including how to feed and care for pregnant women, infants and young children. Yet most health and nutrition programmes focus exclusively on children and women of reproductive age, and either ignore grandmothers or view them as an obstacle rather than a resource” (Aubel et al., 2014, p. iv). “Most programmes that aim to improve children’s nutrition, health and development involve younger mothers but do not explicitly involve senior women, or grandmothers.

The rationale for involving grandmothers stems from the roles that they play, especially with young children from the day they are born and in their earliest years of life. There is increasing evidence of their role and influence in non-Western societies around the world, including Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Pacific, Aboriginal Australia and Native North America” (Aubel et al., p. 7).


  1. Grandmothers as co-residers, primary caregivers, and non-residers play a role in a substantial number of families;
  2. Grandchildren co-residing with grandmothers as caregivers, share multiple risks (nutrition, health, development & safety), as do other members residing in the family;
  3. Grandmothers can be a protective factor, given her unique role to influence grandchildren’s nutrition, health, development & safety—indirectly via the adult-child, and directly via the grandchild;
  4. Based on a longitudinal study of US grandmothers (Musil et al.) self-regulatory efficacy and social support were not only important but are, theoretically, changeable; and that
  5. Learning from non-Western societies, Grandmothers in Western societies can be empowered to play positive roles in the family through purposeful building of social-support, knowledge and practical skills.
Rationale for the Grandmothers Count reseach project

Statistics on the prevalence of grandmothers in the US

Pew foundation report:  PEW grandparents_report_final_2013

Statistics on the prevalence of grandmothers in the US

Interventions to empower grandparents

Kirby & Sanders, University of Queensland, have begun a study on “Using Consumer Input to Tailor Evidence-Based Parenting Interventions to the Needs of Grandparents” : Kirby & Sanders (AV, 2011).

Interventions to empower grandparents

Grandmothers, Caregiving & Family Functioning (Case Western U)

Musil and colleagues (2006) are conducting a longitudinal study on GM and families.

Over 450 grandmothers have continued in the study, since the study began in 2001.,

…see their structural equation model Musil, Structural equation model

…read the full article, Musil, GM caregiving and health 2006

Conclusions: “Less self-control, self-regulatory efficacy, subjective and instrumental support, and role reward–but more intrafamily strain and stressful family life events–contributed to perceptions of worse family functioning.

Custodial caregiving led to less instrumental support and more intrafamily strain and self-regulatory efficacy.

Multigenerational caregiving was related to more instrumental support and interfamily strain (p. S95)”.

Grandmothers, Caregiving & Family Functioning (Case Western U)