Happy Grandparents Day (no need to send a card)

This year on Grandparents Day, more children might want to honor their grandparents, but they won’t need to mail a card to do it.

So far the recession has brought American families a possible stall in divorce rates and a drop in birth rates, as well as a rash of child abuse and other violence. Now there is more evidence that the recession is bringing families closer together — in this case physically — in the data on children’s living arrangements. The number of children who live with at least one grandparent has spiked upward.

The Census Bureau reports that 7 million children were living with a grandparent in 2009, or 9% of kids under 18. Among those, half (4.5 million) live in the grandparents’ home, rather than hosting a grandparent in their parents’ home. (The new Pew Center report making news provides more detail on care arrangements, but only includes Census data through 2008.)

Interestingly, as the figure shows, the jump in multigenerational living was greatest for the non-poor (those over 200% of the poverty line). In addition to fallout from job losses, one can imagine this includes families displaced by foreclosure and job loss, grandparents who can’t afford to move into retirement communities because they can’t sell their homes, and other complications of the real estate crash.

The children most likely to live with grandparents, however, are the near-poor — those between 100% and 200% of the poverty line. This might include a lot of would-be poor families in which the grandparents are employed, bringing the total family income over the poverty line.

My older research into multigenerational living produced compelling evidence that these arrangements are usually not a first choice in the U.S. these days — because the more money people have, the less likely they are to share housing. Still, the effect of all this could be more intergenerational solidarity and close relationships. But I wouldn’t assume that.

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