Diversity of grandparents living with their grandchildren
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- Overview of the study
- Overview of grandparents in Canada
- Close to 600,000 grandparents in shared homes with grandchildren
- Proportion of co-residing grandparents high in Nunavut, especially for Inuit
- One-fifth of recent immigrants aged 45 and over living with grandchildren
- Many Punjabi-speakers are co-residing grandparents
- Almost all co-residing Sikh and Hindu grandparents are in a multigenerational home
- One-quarter of grandparents living with their grandchildren are widowed
- Related material for this article
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Even though most grandparents live in separate households from their adult children and grandchildren, sometimes the grandparent and grandchild generations live together. This article provides information on the number of grandparents who are in this particular situation, along with their living arrangements and their ethnocultural and sociodemographic characteristics.
- In 2011, there were about 7 million grandparents aged 45 and over in private households, representing 57% of the population in this age group. Grandparents had 4.2 grandchildren on average.
- In 2011, close to 600,000 grandparents aged 45 and over lived with their grandchildren, accounting for 8% of all grandparents and for 4% of the overall population in this age group.
- Most grandparents who lived with their grandchildren also lived with at least one middle-generation person (88%). The rest (12%) were in ‘skip-generation’ households, that is, with no middle generation present.
- Persons aged 45 and over who reported an Aboriginal identity and reported a Traditional Aboriginal Spirituality had larger proportions of grandparents living with their grandchildren. As well, higher proportions were seen among Sikh (Punjabi-speaking in most cases) and Hindu populations.
- Of all grandparents living with their grandchildren in 2011, 62% were married or in a common-law union. Of those not in couples, 25% of co-residing grandparents were widowed and an additional 14% were divorced, separated or had never been married.
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The Canadian population is not only aging, it is also experiencing increasing variety in living arrangements and family structure. Although Canadians are having children at older ages, which can lengthen the span between generations, relatively high life expectancy means that relationships between generations can potentially last for many years. While the majority of grandparents maintain a separate residence from both their adult children and grandchildren, sometimes co-residence occurs for the grandparent and grandchild generations. The propensity to share a home with one or more grandchildren may be influenced by many factors, including the ethnocultural, sociodemographic and economic characteristics of the population.
Based on the population aged 45 and over living in private households, this study initially provides an overview of all grandparents in Canada using the 2011 General Social Survey (GSS). While grandparents overall have certain ethnocultural, sociodemographic and economic characteristics, the profile of the particular grandparents who lived with one or more of their grandchildren can be quite different.
To better understand the profile of grandparents living with grandchildren, the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) is used to examine the prevalence of being a co-residing grandparent according to selected diversity characteristics, such as Aboriginal identity, immigrant status, visible minority group status, language, and religion. Among grandparents in shared homes, the composition of the middle generation (i.e., whether grandparents are living in a multigenerational household or in a skip-generation household) is examined, as well as their contribution to household payments.
As part of the planning process for an aging population, understanding living arrangements involves examining how they may differ for various population groups. With increasing ethnocultural diversity, particular living arrangements—such as multigenerational shared residence—may be more commonly found among certain groups. Understanding the living arrangements of such families is important, since they could have implications for the provision of care and support, financial resources and housing needs for these different populations.
Furthermore, co-residence is likely to affect each generation in the home. Exchanges of support—emotional, practical, financial, or a combination of these factors—may flow between generations to various degrees. Grandparents sharing a home with grandchildren may provide an important resource for one or both generations—as well as for the middle generation, if present. In circumstances when parents are not in the home, grandparents may serve as a crucial source of support for dependent grandchildren. Finally, higher life expectancy, as well as growing ethnocultural diversity, could increase the potential for grandparent and grandchild generations to co-reside in the future.
According to the 2011 General Social Survey, about 7 million people aged 45 and over in private households, or 57% of this population, were grandparents—up from 50% in 2001, likely reflecting an overall older population compared with a decade earlier.Note 1
Regardless of their living arrangements, more women were grandmothers (61%) in 2011 than men who were grandfathers (52%). Women are typically younger than their spouse or partner, have their children at a younger age, and have a higher life expectancy, all of which contribute to women becoming grandparents at a younger age and remaining in this role for a longer time period than men.
The propensity to be a grandparent increases with age. It was relatively uncommon to be a grandparent at a young age—less than one-quarter of adults aged 45 to 54 in 2011—but by age 55 to 64, a majority of individuals were grandparents (60%). Among those aged 65 to 74 in 2011, 87% were grandparents, increasing to 94% among those aged 75 and over. These proportions, however, do not capture either the duration or timing of grandparenthood and many of these older seniors may have become grandparents years earlier.
Most grandparents have several grandchildren. Specifically, in 2011, 17% of grandparents had one grandchild, 22% had two grandchildren, 27% had three or four grandchildren, and over one-third (34%) had five grandchildren or more. On average, in 2011, grandparents had 4.2 grandchildren down from 4.8 grandchildren in 2001. While there could be a higher proportion of grandparents in the coming decades due to population aging, grandparents may each have fewer grandchildren than they do now if the current trend continues.
The rest of the article provides a comprehensive profile of grandparents who co-reside with their grandchildren. It shows that some ethnocultural and sociodemographic characteristics are associated with a higher probability of living with grandchildren in a shared home.
While most grandparents and their grandchildren reside in separate homes, some do live together.Note 2 According to the 2011 NHS, 584,350 grandparents aged 45 and over, or 4% of the overall population in this age group, lived with their grandchildren. Co-residing grandparents represented about 8% of all grandparents in Canada (see Data sources, methods and definitions).There could be many reasons why grandparents share a home with their grandchildren such as cultural preference, financial necessityNote 3 or health and other possibilities.
The majority of grandparents in a shared home with their grandchildren—511,700 or 88% in 2011—also lived with one or more persons from the middle generation (Table 1). Most commonly, co‑residing grandparents lived with a middle generation comprised of a couple (53% of grandparents in shared homes), followed by a lone parent (32%). Lone parents may need more support than parents in couple families, and living in a multigenerational household with their own parents may be a way for them to pool resources associated with finances and caring for their own children. A lower proportion of co-residing grandparents (less than 3%) lived with a middle generation comprised of either both a couple and a lone parent or a more complex combination.
|Distribution||Median age||Some financial responsibility|
|Total grandparents in shared homes||584,350||100.0||66.2||50.3|
|In a multigenerational household with||511,685||87.6||66.2||46.1|
|In a skip-generation household||72,665||12.4||66.0||80.3|
|Source: Statistics Canada, National Household Survey, 2011.|
The remaining 72,700 grandparents aged 45 and over in a shared home were in a skip-generation household in 2011—that is, with no middle generation present, accounting for 12% of this population. Parents may be absent for a variety of reasons and, in such families, grandparents may assume a parental role, providing a valuable emotional and/or financial resource for their grandchildren. (For a profile of grandchildren living with their grandparents, see Grandchildren living with grandparents).
In fact, most grandparents in either skip-generation households (80%) or multigenerational households with a lone-parent middle generation (75%) had at least some responsibility for household payments.Note 4 In contrast, when the middle generation was a couple, a significantly smaller share of grandparents (28%) contributed financially to household payments. In the latter case, however, these grandparents tended to be older (with a median age of nearly 69 years, compared with 66 years among those in a skip-generation household and 62 years among those living with a lone parent).
With the NHS, it is possible to identify grandparents living with grandchildren for a wide range of specific populations, but it is not possible to identify the population of grandparents as a whole. While co-residing grandparents cannot be expressed as a proportion of grandparents, they can be expressed as a proportion of the overall population aged 45 and above.
The proportion of individuals living with at least one grandchild varied across the country, and was highest in Nunavut, at nearly 1 in 4 individuals (24%) aged 45 and over in 2011 compared with 4% nationally (Table 2). The proportion of the population aged 45 or over who were grandparents in shared homes was also comparatively higher in the Northwest Territories (8%).
|Total co-residing grandparents||4.1|
|45 to 49||1.2|
|50 to 54||2.2|
|55 to 59||3.4|
|60 to 64||5.0|
|65 to 69||6.2|
|70 to 74||7.2|
|75 to 79||7.4|
|80 and over||7.4|
|In a couple||3.6|
|Legally married (and not separated)||3.9|
|Not in a couple||5.2|
|Never legally married||1.2|
|Divorced or separated||3.7|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||4.1|
|Prince Edward Island||3.2|
|First NationsNote 1||14.4|
|Other Aboriginal identityNote 2||3.6|
|Period of immigration|
|between 2006 and 2011||20.5|
|Age at immigration|
|less than 45||4.3|
|45 to 54||18.3|
|55 to 64||43.1|
|65 and over||53.1|
|Language spoken most often at home|
|English and French||2.7|
|Official and non-official||7.8|
|Chinese, n.o.s.Note 3||12.9|
|Tagalog (Pilipino, Filipino)||14.8|
|Traditional Aboriginal Spirituality||20.0|
|No religious affiliation||4.0|
|Visible minority status|
|Visible minority, n.i.e.Note 4||10.5|
|Multiple visible minorities||10.4|
|Not a visible minority||2.8|
|Some financial responsibility|
In the North, the larger share of grandparents living with their grandchildren may be related to the issue of crowded housing within some communities.Note 5 Nunavut also had the highest proportion of large households in Canada in 2011, as 32% of all households were comprised of 5 or more people (compared with 8% nationally). Among households including a co-residing grandparent in Nunavut, 71% were comprised of at least 5 people (compared with 62% nationally).
In contrast, some provinces had lower proportions of co-residing grandparents than the national average, especially Quebec (2%). In fact, 25% of the total population aged 45 and over lived in Quebec, but 12% of all co-residing grandparents in this age group lived in this province.
The population who reported an Aboriginal identityNote 6—which is more prevalent in certain regions of the country—was also proportionally more likely to live with grandchildren (11% in 2011). In particular, over one-fifth (22%) of the population aged 45 or older who self-identified as Inuit was a co-residing grandparent, which increased to nearly one-third (33%) for Inuit living in Nunavut.Note 7 The proportion was also relatively high in 2011 for those who self-identified as First NationsNote 8 (14%). First Nations people living on-reserve in 2011 were also much more likely to be co-residing grandparents (27%) than those living off-reserve (8%). In contrast, the proportion of those who self-identified as Métis (5%) was closer to those who reported no Aboriginal identity (4%).
Several unique family-related characteristics could explain the higher proportion of co-residing grandparents within the Aboriginal population, including Aboriginal custom adoption, which is the “selection of individuals to adopt a child, by birth parents (or their elders), based on historical Aboriginal adoption practices”.Note 9 In addition, Aboriginal identity populations, particularly Inuit, have higher fertility levels than the rest of the populationNote 10—meaning that the Aboriginal population may be more likely to be grandparents. As previously noted, northern communities—many of which are home to a proportionally large Aboriginal population—may also lack sufficient housing.
Among those who reported an Aboriginal identity and were co-residing grandparents in 2011, about one-half (49%) shared a household with middle-generation lone parents and 17% shared a household with middle-generation couples (Chart 1). The opposite was found among the non-Aboriginal population, for whom it was more common for co-residing grandparents to live with a couple (56%) than a lone-parent (31%) middle generation. Although the counts are low, Inuit co-residing grandparents were significantly more likely to live with a complex middle generation (11%, compared with just below 3% nationally), reflecting the interplay of various cultural and economic factors for this population, including the importance of extended family.
A larger share of the Aboriginal population was comprised of grandparents in a skip-generation home (27%) than the non-Aboriginal population (11%), although this was more predominant for Métis and First Nations (28% each) populations than Inuit (18%).
The distinctive nature of Aboriginal families can also be seen in who bears the financial responsibility for the household. While one-half (50%) of co-residing grandparents had some financial responsibility for the household in 2011, it was closer to three-quarters (73%) among those with an Aboriginal identity. Even when the middle generation was comprised of a couple, 55% of grandparents with an Aboriginal identity had some financial responsibility—ranging from 49% among Métis grandparents to 57% among First Nations people—compared with 27% for the non-Aboriginal population.
For some populations, such as immigrantsNote 11, living with adult children or relatives can be a financial coping strategy.Note 12 Immigrants accounted for 26% of the overall population aged 45 and over in 2011, and for more than one-half of co-residing grandparents (54%). Parents or grandparents arriving from abroad—and sponsored in the Family Reunification Program—are required by the federal government to be financially supported by their sponsors for the first 10 years of residence during which time they are not eligible for government income assistance.Note 13 Consequently, for recent immigrants who came to Canada for the purpose of family reunification, their adult children and other relatives may be an important source of financial security.
In 2011, more than 8% of the immigrant population aged 45 and over lived in a home they shared with their grandchildren compared with less than 3% of their Canadian-born counterparts (Table 2). Within the immigrant population, however, there is much diversity given that some immigrants might have arrived in Canada at any time earlier in their lives—as children or as young, middle-aged or older adults—perhaps to be united with family members already in the country.
Among recent immigrants aged 45 or older who arrived in Canada between 2006 and 2011, 21% were grandparents in shared homes, as were 8% of immigrants who arrived prior to 2006. In addition, more than half (53%) of immigrants who came to Canada at age 65 or older were co-residing grandparents, compared with 4% of those who came when they were aged less than 45, thus reinforcing the importance of family networks and support among older immigrants arriving in the country.Note 14
Within the population of immigrant co-residing grandparents, 95% of immigrants who arrived in Canada before 2006 lived in a multigenerational household in 2011, and it was higher (99%) among those who were recent arrivals (Chart 2). While the majority of Canadian-born co-residing grandparents also contained a middle generation, it was comparatively lower—78% in 2011—and the proportion in skip-generation families was correspondingly higher, at 22%.
More specifically, the proportion of co-residing grandparents living with a middle-generation couple was higher among immigrants (70%)—particularly recent immigrants (85%)—compared with Canadian-born grandparents (33%). In fact, the share of Canadian-born grandparents living with lone parents (43%) surpassed those living with couples (33%) and those living without a middle-generation person (22%).
Just over one-third (37%) of immigrant co-residing grandparents and 19% of those recently arrived were financial maintainers in 2011, compared with 66% among their Canadian-born counterparts. This supports previous research which found that recent immigrant parents were more likely to live as financial dependents in homes with their adult children compared with longer-term immigrants.Note 15 Note, however, that sponsored parents and/or grandparents may contribute to the household in a different way, for instance by providing functional or emotional support such as home care or child care, or both.Note 16
Language spoken most often at home is also associated with being a co-residing grandparent. Grandparents aged 45 and over who lived with at least one grandchild were more than three times as likely to speak a non-official language most often at home (39%) in 2011, compared with the total population in this age group (12%). From another perspective, 14% of individuals aged 45 and over who spoke a non-official language at home lived with their grandchildren, as did 3% among those who spoke only one official language. Proportions were highest among people who most often spoke Punjabi (or Panjabi), of whom 44% of the population aged 45 and over were grandparents who lived with their grandchildren (Chart 3), followed by those who most often spoke Tagalog (15%)—also known as Pilipino or Filipino—and Mandarin (14%).Note 17
The proportion of co-residing grandparents in multigenerational households was highest among those who most often spoke Punjabi, Mandarin, and Arabic (at least 98% in each case) at home (Chart 4). Punjabi-speaking co-residing grandparents had the largest share living with a middle-generation couple (89%) and an additional 7% lived with a middle-generation lone parent. In contrast, among co-residing grandparents who most often spoke an official language at home, a larger share was comprised of a middle-generation lone parent (41%) than a couple (37%)—the only language group with this pattern—and an additional 19% were in skip-generation households, the highest proportion of all language groups.
The economic circumstances of these co-residing grandparents may be reflected by patterns of who takes on financial responsibility for the household. While 25% of co‑residing grandparents who spoke Punjabi most often at home were a financial provider in 2011, this was the situation for about 63% of grandparents who most often spoke an official language. This suggests that there could be cultural reasons as well as potential economic benefits to co‑residence.
Religious affiliation—another indicator of the importance of cultural attributes—was also associated with being a grandparent in a shared home. The proportion of the population aged 45 and over with a Sikh religion and who were co-residing grandparents was 39% in 2011, compared with 4% among those with no religious affiliation (Chart 5). Individuals in their mid-forties and older who identified themselves as being affiliated with Traditional Aboriginal Spirituality or as Hindu also had relatively higher proportions of being grandparents in a shared home (20% and 18%, respectively). In contrast, the lowest proportions of individuals aged 45 and over who were grandparents in shared homes—even lower than those who declared no religion—were those who reported being Christian (3%) and Jewish (less than 2%).
Despite the higher proportion of co-residing grandparents with Sikh, Traditional Aboriginal Spirituality or Hindu religious affiliations, there were differences in the middle-generation composition of these groups. In 2011, nearly all Sikh and Hindu (99% of each group) grandparents in a shared home lived with a middle generation, primarily a couple (accounting for 88% and 85% of these co-residing grandparents, respectively). In contrast, 71% of those who declared Traditional Aboriginal Spirituality lived in a multigenerational household, including 15% who lived with a middle-generation couple. The remainder (29%) were in skip-generation households, more than double the national average (12%) and certainly more than those who declared Sikh or Hindu affiliations (about 1% each).
A relatively low proportion of Sikh and Hindu co‑residing grandparents overall had any responsibility for household payments, at 27% and 24% in 2011, respectively, as most of these grandparents lived with a middle-generation couple, situations in which they are less likely be a financial maintainer. Conversely, among grandparents who affiliated with Traditional Aboriginal Spirituality, 74% had at least some responsibility for maintaining their household, likely reflecting the comparatively higher proportions of these grandparents in skip-generation households or households with a middle-generation lone parent.
In many ways, the results obtained by religious affiliation align with those that were obtained for other ethnocultural and diversity characteristics. A large majority of Sikh co-residing grandparents, for instance, most often spoke Punjabi at home (92%). There was also a close association between Traditional Aboriginal Spirituality and Aboriginal Identity; among co-residing grandparents who reported a religion of Traditional Aboriginal Spirituality, 99% also reported an Aboriginal identity. The implication is that the same individuals who contribute to the higher proportions observed for some religions, also contribute to higher proportions for related ethnocultural characteristics.
Similarly, visible minority statusNote 18 was also associated with the prevalence of being a co‑residing grandparent. In 2011, 12% of the visible minority population aged 45 or over lived with their grandchildren, compared with 3% who did not belong to a visible minority group.Note 19 Within the visible minority population, the proportion of grandparents in their mid-forties or older in a shared home was highest among those who were South Asian (22%). The higher proportions observed for South Asians are reflective of results obtained for the Sikh—along with Punjabi-speaking—and Hindu populations.
For most visible minority co-residing grandparents, the large majority (97%) were in multigenerational households while 3% were in skip-generation households, compared with 81% and 19%, respectively, for other co-residing grandparents (Chart 6). The share of co‑residing grandparents living with a middle generation was largest for South Asians (99%), West Asians and Arabs (98% each).
In contrast, among visible minority groups, the proportion in skip-generation households was highest for Blacks (12%). Recent research on multigenerational households in the United States also found a higher proportion of Blacks in skip-generation households.Note 20 Blacks also had the largest share of grandparents living with a middle-generation lone parent (56%).
Although a lower proportion (34%) of visible minority co-residing grandparents contributed overall to household payments compared with other co-residing grandparents (62%), among specific visible minority groups, Black grandparents were most likely to have some financial responsibility for their households (61%)—particularly when the middle generation was a lone parent (76%)—reflecting the greater need for economic support that may be faced by these lone-parent families.
Just as women aged 45 and over were more likely to be grandparents in general than men in 2011, women were also slightly more likely than men to be co-residing grandparents (5% versus 3%) and the proportion generally increased with age. Just over 8% of women and about 6% of men in their early seventies and older were in a shared home with their grandchildren (Chart 7). While living in a collective dwelling increases with age (where there is less opportunity to live with grandchildren)Note 21 the majority of the population remains in a private household well into their senior years.
Of all grandparents living with their grandchildren in 2011, 62% of co-residing grandparents were married or in a common-law union. Of those not in couples, 25% of co-residing grandparents were widowed, compared with 9% for the overall population aged at least 45, reflecting the older ages of these grandparents. An additional 14% of grandparents living with at least one grandchild was divorced, separated or had never been married (compared with 21% of the overall population aged 45 or older).
Other socioeconomic characteristics were related to the likelihood of living with grandchildren. Specifically, individuals aged 45 and over who had less than a high school education were more likely to be grandparents in a shared home (8%) in 2011 compared with those with a university degree (2%). This could indicate an age effect as individuals with higher levels of education may be younger and therefore less likely to be grandparents. Similarly, 6% of people who were not in the labour force (who tend to be older) were grandparents in a shared home, compared with 2% among those who were employed.
Grandparents and grandchildren often have a special relationship, regardless of proximity of residence. In Canada, most of the 7 million grandparents aged 45 and over live in a separate residence from their grandchildren. However, according to the 2011 NHS, 584,350 grandparents in their mid-forties or older lived with their grandchildren, accounting for approximately 4% of this age group and 8% of all grandparents. There may be a number of reasons for living in a home with grandchildren, and these may change over time, with grandparents taking on both the role of caregiver and care recipient to varying degrees. In skip-generation households, grandparents may face additional responsibilities, as they may be providing a home for grandchildren whose own parents may be unavailable or experiencing difficulties.
The most predominant characteristics among the population who co-reside with their grandchildren are either related to Aboriginal identity or are ethnocultural. Being a co-residing grandparent was more prevalent among those with an Aboriginal identity or had an affiliation with Traditional Aboriginal Spirituality; and those who had an affiliation with Sikh or Hindu religions. The higher proportions of grandparents in Sikh or Hindu religions mirrored the higher proportion of co-residing grandparents among South Asians. Similarly, the higher proportions obtained for Sikh populations reflected the results obtained among those who mainly spoke Punjabi at home.
The majority of grandparents in a shared home also included a middle generation, which, most commonly, was comprised of a couple, followed by a lone parent, while a smaller portion was in a skip-generation household. Most grandparents contributed financially to households that were skip-generation or lone-parent middle generation, however, this was far less likely when the middle generation was a couple. The middle-generation composition also varied across diversity characteristics.
Given the growing diversity of the population in Canada, in conjunction with an aging population, there could be an even greater proportion of shared grandparent-grandchild homes in the future. The particular ethnocultural characteristics that are associated with grandparents in shared homes could have implications for how they experience their senior years—as they continue to age—as well as their corresponding care and social support networks.
Anne Milan is a senior analyst and Nadine Laflamme is an analyst in the Demography Division at Statistics Canada. Irene Wong is an analyst in the Microdata Access Division at Statistics Canada.