Informal and Formal Kinship Care. Distribution of U.S. Children by Living Arrangement


Table 2.1 presents the national distribution of children in these living arrangement categories as reported by the 1990 census. At the national level:

  • Over 70 percent of the 63.6 million American children lived in households with two parents present. These could either be both natural parents, a birth-parent and a step-parent, or two adoptive parents. Clearly the two-parent family continues to be the modal care arrangement for children in the United States.
  • Almost one-fourth (23.9 percent) of all children lived with one parent, and the greatest share of these children lived with their mothers. The "one parent" category means that one of the child's natural parents is absent and the remaining parent has no spouse present, although other adults might be living in the household. Although changes over time are not shown in this cross-sectional data, increases in the number of single-parent families has been the dominant change in recent child living arrangement trends.
  • Just over 2 percent of all children, almost 1.4 million, lived in identified kinship care situations, with no parent present in the household. Kinship caregiving of children, while involving a substantial number of children nationally, must be seen in context as a phenomenon that occurs with relatively low prevalence in the full population.
  • Almost the same number, over 1.3 million children, were not living in relative care. These children lived either in households where they were unrelated to their caretakers, or in unrelated non-household situations, such as foster homes, institutions, or other group quarters.

Each of the three own-parent categories shows similar age composition, with just over one-third of the children being under 6 years of age. A slightly higher proportion of children in mother-only arrangement tend to be in the older (6-17) age category than children in the other two own-parent groups. In contrast, the related child and unrelated child groups contain a noticeably higher percentage of older children than the own-child groups. Only around one-fourth of these children are under 6 years of age, with the kinship group (23.6 percent ages 0-5) having slightly fewer young children than the unrelated group (26.1 percent ages 0-5). National living arrangement distributions for each age group are presented graphically in Figure 2.1.

By examining the full distribution of living arrangements instead of looking just at children living in kinship care settings, we can shift our frame of comparative reference. The conditional percentage of living in any of these arrangements, given that the child does not live with two parents, is shown in Panel D of Table 2.1. In this necessarily higher "risk" group, the percentage of children living with relatives approaches 8 percent. Similarly, children living in kinship settings comprise just over one-half (51.3 percent) of all children living in arrangements in which no parent is present (Panel E).

These national census data provide very little direct description of the kinship population other than counts and age groupings. These numbers are useful for identifying the size and level of kinship caregiving, but they do very little to help us better understand which children are involved in kinship care settings and how they differ from other children. It is particularly unfortunate that this census-based information is not classified by race/ethnicity, because the national CPS data have shown this to have an important influence on living arrangement types, including kinship caregiving.

View full report


"6016.pdf" (pdf, 3.49Mb)

Note: Documents in PDF format require the Adobe Acrobat Reader®. If you experience problems with PDF documents, please download the latest version of the Reader®