WASHINGTON – About 5 percent of Maryland households are multigenerational, and many of those families consist of grandparents who have taken in their children and grandchildren, according to new data from the Census Bureau.
The number of multigenerational families in Maryland is slightly higher than the national average of about 4 percent.
While this is the first time the Census has tabulated these numbers, demographers say the number of multigenerational households has been growing. And while there have always been grandparents living with parents and children, the reasons have changed.
“Research points to increases in drug abuse, child abuse, teen and non- marital births, divorce and AIDS, and changes in the welfare laws that have presented families with new crises,” said Lynne Casper, a statistician, author and former Census official.
In Maryland, almost two out of three multigenerational households consisted of a child and grandchild who were living in the grandparents’ home. Most of the rest were families in which grandparent lived in their child’s home with the child and grandchild.
Demographers said that Americans tend not to live in multigenerational households when they can afford not to. Factors such as housing costs and immigration may also affect the number of multigenerational households, Census officials said. Often, parents with low incomes move in with their own parents for financial reasons.
“In our program, many parents live with their own parent in order to provide good housing and the things they want for their children,” said Barbara Smith, director of Emily Price Jones Head Start in Baltimore, which provides early childhood education and social services to poor families.
Experts said there is a growing trend toward grandparents taking responsibility for the care of their grandchildren. The Census bureau estimates that 42,000 to 60,000 Maryland grandparents care for their grandchildren.
Such arrangements can be a drain on grandparents, and a movement is shaping up to give them support. More than 30 caregiver support groups meet in Maryland, and the state Department of Aging publishes a guide for relatives caring for children.
“There are benefits when children and older people interact,” said Susan London Russell, the Department of Aging’s intergenerational specialist. “Elders have a lot of wisdom to give children. They boost the children’s self-esteem.
“And the interaction gives older, retired adults a sense of purpose,” she said. “The opportunity to help a child in need makes the senior feel like he’s doing something meaningful.”
Of Maryland’s almost 2 million households, 88,923 families, or 4.5 percent, included a grandparent, child and grandchild. Maryland is close to the national average because it mirrors the nation demographically, experts said.
“With its urban-rural split, Maryland is a microcosm of the country,” said John Haaga of the Population Reference Bureau.
Child advocate William O’Hare said the percentage of multigenerational households in Maryland was probably the average of two extremes.
“Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in the country, but there are significant pockets of poverty in places like Baltimore and the Eastern Shore,” said O’Hare, the Maryland Kids Count Coordinator at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Hawaii had the highest proportion of multigenerational families, at 8.2 percent, while North Dakota had the lowest proportion, with 1.1 percent.