Robert Groves grew up in Metairie, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans, made up and in 1966 graduated from the De La Salle High School in New Orleans. Groves completed his degree in Sociology from Dartmouth College in 1970. In 1973, he earned a master's in each Statistics and Sociology of the University of Michigan and received his PhD in 1975 also in sociology. In the following years he was a researcher and lecturer at several American and international universities and research institutions, as in 1987 and 1997, a visiting professor at the Center for Survey Research and Methodology (ZUMA ) in Mannheim, now part of CSA - Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences.
Already 1990-1992 Groves worked as associate director for the Census Bureau. There he came into conflict with his employer, the then Minister of Commerce Robert A. Mosbacher, because he had proposed to compensate for the chronic under-representation of minorities and vulnerable groups in the Census by statistical methods. The Republican administration of George HW Bush feared that by the electoral chances of the Democrats would be improved. Groves then returned to the University of Michigan.
On 2 April 2009 he was nominated by President Barack Obama as Director of the Census Bureau. The Senate confirmed him on 13 July 2009 with 76 votes to 15, and two days later it was officially inaugurated.
Groves is married and has two sons.