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Caring for Children of Color

The Child Care Patterns of White, Black and Hispanic Children

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Document date: February 28, 2006
Released online: February 28, 2006

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).

The text below is a portion of the complete document.


Executive Summary

Studies that focus on parental child care decisions have uncovered several important patterns relevant to child care policy. These studies find that the age of the child, family income, maternal education, and numerous other child and family characteristics are related to parental child care choices. Most of these studies, however, focus only on the national population of children and do not examine whether the patterns hold for subgroups. Subgroup analyses are important because the focus on children nationally may mask markedly different patterns among specific groups of children—patterns that may have important policy implications.

One strand of subgroup analysis involves the study of child care patterns of different racial and ethnic groups. While past research has found that white, black, and Hispanic children are, on average, placed in different forms of care, what is less clear are the factors associated with these differences and whether documented national patterns of child care behavior hold among white, black, and Hispanic children separately. Given that white children make up a sizeable majority of the under-5 population, they may be driving the national child care patterns, masking different patterns among black and Hispanic children. To look more closely at these issues among children under 5 in families where each parent present in the family is employed, this paper attempts to answer two questions:

  1. Do the national child care patterns found in past research, such as those by age or income, hold for white, black, and Hispanic children separately?
  2. Do differences in the types of child care used by white, black, and Hispanic children persist when examining specific groups of children, such as low-income children or children of single parents?

Data and Methods

This report uses combined 1997 and 1999 data from the National Survey of America's Families (NSAF) to investigate the child care patterns of white, black, and Hispanic children. It examines the child care patterns of non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic children under 5 years old. Because of the particular challenges facing employed parents, the analysis is limited to children in families where each parent present in the family is employed at least part-time.

The report examines the child's primary child care arrangement, defined as the type of child care used for the most hours while the primary caretaker is working. The types of nonparental care examined are center-based arrangements (a child care center, Head Start, nursery school, preschool, prekindergarten, or beforeand after-school program), family child care (care by a nonrelative in the provider's home), nanny/baby-sitter care (care by a nonrelative in the child's home), relative care (care by a relative inside or outside the child's home), and parent/other care (when the primary caretaker did not report using any regular child care arrangement while he or she worked). In addition to the primary child care arrangement, the report examines the percentage of children in care for 35 hours or more a week.

In the body of the report, the child care patterns of white, black, and Hispanic children are examined across eight important child and family characteristics:

  • child age,
  • family structure (i.e., whether the child lives in a single-parent or two-parent family),
  • family income,
  • education level of the child's primary caretaker,
  • work schedule of the child's primary caretaker,
  • "parental availability," which measures the amount of time parents have to care for their children by looking simultaneously at family structure and employment,
  • the presence of an unemployed nonparental relative in the household, and
  • the region of the country in which the child lives.

Among children younger than 5 nationally, past research has shown each of these characteristics relates to the use of different child care arrangements or the time spent in care. For example, 3- and 4-year-old children nationally are more likely to be placed in center-based care and less likely to be in relative or parent care than children younger than 3. This paper examines whether these patterns hold for white, black, and Hispanic children separately. It also examines whether differences in the characteristics of white, black, and Hispanic children help explain differences in child care use across these three groups.

Cross-tabulations are used to examine the relationship between these characteristics and the child care arrangements of white, black, and Hispanic children. In the most obvious cases, control variables are included in an attempt to isolate the independent influence of highly correlated variables (e.g., income and education). This more straightforward approach is used, rather than a multivariate approach, to make the paper accessible to a broad audience and to allow the reader to reference statistics on the child care arrangements of white, black, and Hispanic children in various demographic and economic circumstances.

Findings

Five major findings emerge when examining the child care patterns of white, black, and Hispanic children.

Finding 1: A large majority of white, black, and Hispanic children under 5 in families where each parent present in the family works is in some form of nonparental child care.

Black children younger than 5 are the most likely of the three groups to be in a nonparental child care arrangement (87 percent, or roughly 1.4 million children). Eighty-one percent of white children—roughly 5.3 million children—are regularly in a nonparental child care arrangement each week and 80 percent of Hispanic children (roughly 1.1 million children) are regularly in nonparental care.

Finding 2: While children from each racial and ethnic group are found in each form of nonparental child care, white, black, and Hispanic children under 5 differ in the extent to which they are placed in the various forms of care.

Black children are far more likely than white or Hispanic children to have center-based care as their primary child care arrangement (44 percent). Hispanic children are the least likely to be in center-based care (20 percent), while the percentage of white children falls directly in between these two groups (32 percent). Hispanic children are much more likely (40 percent) than black (28 percent) or white children (24 percent) to be in the care of relatives as their primary child care arrangement. Black children are significantly less likely to be in parent/other care than white and Hispanic children. Only 12 percent of black children are in this category, compared with 20 percent of white children and 19 percent of Hispanic children.

Finding 3: White, black, and Hispanic children are placed in nonparental child care for different amounts of time.

In addition to being more likely to be in nonparental child care, black children spend significantly more time in child care than their white or Hispanic counterparts. Sixty-four percent of black children spend at least 35 hours a week in nonparental child care, compared with only 43 percent of Hispanic children and 40 percent of white children.

Finding 4: White children appear to drive national child care patterns, often masking different patterns among black children and, to a lesser extent, Hispanic children.

When examining whether white, black, and Hispanic children follow the national patterns associated with each child and family characteristic examined here, we find that only white children follow these patterns in every case. In contrast, black children follow the national patterns only about half the time. For example, among children nationally, increases in family income and the education level of the child's primary caretaker are related to the increased use of center-based care and decreased use of relative and parent care. These patterns, however, do not hold among black children. The use of center-based care is high among black children regardless of family income and primary caretaker education.

Hispanic children tend to follow the national patterns more closely, with at least one notable exception. While the child care arrangements of children in single-parent families tend to look much different from those of children in two-parent families nationally, this is not true among Hispanic children.

Finding 5: Certain differences in the characteristics of white, black, and Hispanic children help us understand why child care arrangements vary among the three groups. However, many important differences appear not to help us understand why this variation exists.

While white, black, and Hispanic children come from families with vastly different characteristics, only some of the differences examined here contribute to our understanding of why the three groups use different forms of care. Characteristics related to family structure, parental availability, relatives living in the household, and region appear to explain at least some of the differences in child care use among the three groups. For example, white and black children (but not Hispanic children) with single parents who work full-time look very similar in their use of child care arrangements and in the amount of time they spend in care.

However, some important characteristics that one might expect to explain differences in child care use do not. For example, differences in income among white, black, and Hispanic families do not appear to explain the differences in their use of center-based care. Even when examining low-income children separately, black children are significantly more likely to be in center-based care than white or Hispanic children. Indeed, black children are more likely than the other groups to be in center-based care across most categories of children examined. The same can be said for the low use of center-based care and the high use of relative care among Hispanic children: these findings persist regardless of the child or family characteristic examined. It will be important, however, to examine these characteristics within a multivariate framework.

Policy Implications

The findings in this paper have important implications. Large percentages of children in each group are in some form of nonparental care regularly each week. This fact underscores the importance of child care in the lives of all of America's children and reinforces the need for policymakers to pay close attention to child care-related issues. Indeed, despite different patterns across the groups, children of each race and ethnicity are in every form of care.

Accordingly, the growing policy concern about school readiness and child development means policymakers must continue to focus on addressing concerns of quality in all forms of care. This is true whether we are talking about supporting the quality of centers, where the greatest proportion of black children in our study are placed, or relatives, the most likely arrangement for Hispanic children.

Finally, given only some of the family characteristics examined here help us understand the differences in the child care arrangements used by white, black, and Hispanic children, it is important to examine other factors that might play a role. These factors may include differences in child care preferences across the groups as well as differences in the constraints they may face (e.g., the inadequate supply of certain forms of care in specific communities). As such, policymakers must continue to focus on ensuring that parents of every racial and ethnic group have real parental choice by seeking to understand and address such issues as the costs of child care, the supply and quality of child care, and language and cultural barriers that can keep parents from choosing the forms of care they prefer.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).



Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Race/Ethnicity/Gender


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