• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Thursday 16th May, 2013

Culture vs cost: How do parents choose childcare?

strong>Latino parents are less likely than their non-Latino white counterparts to put their children in formal, center-based early care. Some say this results from parents’ cultural choices – but research shows it may have more to do with cost. Latino families in the US use center-based childcare services less than non-Latino white families. Many researchers and policy advocates say that high-quality early years childcare is one of the best ways to improve children’s long-term education and employment prospects – and say that the low rates are a concern. The question, of course, is why Latino parents are more likely to keep their young children at home.Common wisdom is that this is a cultural preference. But one study suggests the difference may have more to do with costs and opportunities than culture and choice. Among similarly situated black, Latino, and white families, the use of non-parental care is essentially the same.Of course, the raw demographic differences between black, Latino, and white households in the US are dramatic. But New York-based researchers found that when some of these demographic characteristics are accounted for – specifically, mothers’ education, mothers’ employment status, and family income – differences in the use of non-parental care essentially disappear.This research, examining childcare patterns for 7,200 US children using the National Household Education Survey, indicates under-use of childcare services by the Latino population is not a cultural idiosyncrasy; it may in fact be a tale of barriers to access.Social work researchers Joy Pastan Greenberg and Jessica Kahn, of the City University of New York, also looked at differences in non-parental care separately for 0 to 2-year-olds and 3 to 5-year-olds. They found that, of 3 to 5-year-olds in non-parental care, about 65% of Latino children were in center-based care, compared to more than three-quarters of black and white children. The figures for the younger group were similar: of 0 to 2-year-olds in non-parental care, about a quarter of the Latino children were in center-based care, compared to more than 35% of black and white children.Some have suggested that Latino families are less likely to choose formal childcare arrangements because of language barriers, or because new Latino immigrants may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the types of non-parental childcare available in the US. Interestingly, the authors’ results suggest just the opposite. Having a foreign-born mother or a non-English-speaking parent made no significant difference to Latino children’s non-parental childcare arrangements, after mother’s education and employment and the family income were taken into account.The authors say that “all families, regardless of race/ethnicity, deserve access to affordable, high-quality early childhood education experiences.” But beyond ethical considerations, there could also be practical repercussions if Latino children are prevented by their parents’ circumstances from accessing quality childcare services.Latinos currently constitute 12.5% of the US population, but 21% of the child population under the age of five. By 2050, it is estimated that Latino children will represent 35% of the US’s child population – making the question of Latino families’ options in childcare important for the future.*********Reference:Greenberg, J. P., & Khan, J. M. (2012). Early childhood education and care use: differences by race/ethnicity and age. Journal of Children and Poverty, 18(1), 23-54.

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