Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Understanding Grandfamilies: Characteristics of Grandparents, Nonresident Parents, and Children

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Understanding Grandfamilies: Characteristics of Grandparents, Nonresident Parents, and Children

Article excerpt

In 2013, approximately 2.2% of U.S. children lived in a household consisting of a grandparent and grandchild but no parent, referred to here as a grandfamily (authors' tabulations from the American Community Survey). Some studies document the characteristics, strengths, and challenges of grandfamilies (e.g., Cox, 2000). Missing, however, is an analysis of how the characteristics and well-being of those in grandfamilies, including the nonresident parents, compare to those in other families. We provide a detailed comparison of how grandparent caregivers compare with the child's nonresident parents and with other parents of similar socioeconomic backgrounds, and we examine the well-being of children in grandfamilies utilizing a wide range of high-quality measures of child well-being from multiple reporters.

We do so using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FF), addressing the following questions: What are the characteristics of individuals in grandfamilies, including grandparents, nonresident mothers, and nonresident fathers, and how do they compare to other economically disadvantaged families with children? How does the well-being of children in grandfamilies compare to that of children in other, similarly economically disadvantaged households? In addressing these questions, our study provides key information not only to researchers but also to policy makers and practitioners. This analysis is situated in the theoretical perspectives of life course theory and particularly the notion of kinscripts, which emphasizes that families are complex systems in which individuals have reciprocal and ongoing relationships with one another (Stack & Burton, 1993).


Characteristics and Comparison of Grandparents, Nonresident Parents, and Grandchildren

An extensive literature studies grandfamilies; given the nature of this brief report, we are not able to fully review this literature here, but we highlight some key studies particularly relevant to our research questions. Especially well documented are the characteristics and challenges faced by grandparents raising their grandchildren (e.g., Fuller-Thomson, Minkler, & Driver, 1997; Goodman & Silverstein, 2006; Hayslip & Kaminski, 2005; Prokos & Keene, 2012). Research using U.S. Census data found that 49% of children in grandfamilies live with both grandparents, 46% with just a grandmother, and 5% with just a grandfather (Dunifon, Ziol-Guest, & Kopko, 2014). Overall, compared to noncustodial grandparents, those raising their grandchildren generally have poorer physical and mental health and more stress (e.g., Bachman & Chase-Lansdale, 2005; Musil & Ahmad, 2002), and grandfamilies are poorer economically than other households with children (e.g., Casper & Bryson, 1998). At the same time, grandfamilies exhibit numerous strengths, including a very warm bond between grandparent and grandchild, an increased sense of purpose on the part of the grandparent, and a wisdom and maturity that comes with parenting for a second time (Dunifon et al., 2014).

Most prior research studying the well-being of children in grandfamilies has compared grandfamily children's well-being to that of U.S. children generally, finding that grandfamily children had elevated behavior problems and poorer academic outcomes (e.g., Dubowitz et al., 1994; Kelley, Whitley, & Campos, 2011; Smith & Palmieri, 2007). A smaller set of studies have compared grandfamily children to other similarly economically disadvantaged children, finding elevated behavior problems (Pittman, 2007) and lower levels of school engagement (Billing, Macomber, & Kortenkamp, 2002), and one study showed no differences (Solomon & Marx, 1995). When compared to those in traditional foster care, research has found that children in grandfamilies fare better (Rubin et al., 2008). We consider a wider range of child well-being measures from multiple reporters, systematically comparing grandfamily children to similarly disadvantaged urban children. …

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