Research That Matters (January 17 - 20, 2008)

Regency Ballroom Wings (Omni Shoreham)

Characteristics of Parents' Child Care Choice: Latent Class Analysis

Jinseok Kim, PhD, University of South Carolina and Maryah Stella Fram, PhD, University of South Carolina.

Background and Purpose: In recent decades, choice of child care arrangement has become a major consideration for a growing proportion of American families. Many studies on child care choice assume that parents make rational choices, placing their children in care of as high a quality as they can afford. However, the evidence supporting a rational child care choice model based primarily on cost and quality is at best uncertain. This paper reports and discusses results from a study examining the child care priorities for a sample of child care-participating parents. Specifically, using a mixture-modeling approach, we examine parental child care considerations holistically, considering the profiles of priorities through which parents have selected particular care alternatives, as well as a range of predictors of these priority profiles. Finally, we assess the relationships among parent and child attributes, priority profile, and actual type of care arrangement. Before presenting this study, we provide an overview of the relevant literature, and describe the conceptual basis for our analyses.

Methods: Child care-participating parents' care choice factors are examined using the data from the National Household Education Survey of Early Childhood Program Participation of 2005 (N = 4,570). Factors related to parental child care arrangement were measured by parents' importance ratings on the following factors using 4-point Likert scale: “locations of the arrangement”; “cost of the arrangement”; “reliability of the arrangement”; “learning activities at the arrangement”; “(CHILD) spending time with other kids (his/her age)”; “times during the day that this caregiver is able to provide care”; and “number of other children in (CHILD)'s care group” when the parents made their arrangements for their children. We introduce a latent class analysis (LCA) of the seven factors to understand parents' child care choice more holistically. Also, multinomial logistic regression analyses are conducted to understand the association among the parent and child socio-demographic characteristics, parental child care choice profiles, and actual child care arrangement choices.

Results: Four empirically distinctive classes are identified out of seven latent class indicators: everything important (31%); learning and quality focused (31%); practicality focused (27%); and something else (11%) classes. Class membership is associated with child's age, race/ethnicity and parent respondent's gender, age, employment status, and socioeconomic status. After controlling for socio-demographic factors' effect, parents in the learning focused class are more likely to choose center based cares while practicality focused class parents prefer home-based relative or non-relative care arrangements than other types of care arrangement.

Conclusions and Implications: This study contributes to the existing child care literature, using an LCA approach, to provide an alternative lens for understanding parental child care considerations and choice. Within the overall diversity among parents in our sample, we find that parents' patterns of considerations fall into four general classes, such that these classes help explain variance not only in what parents view as important in their child care arrangement, but variance in the actual arrangements parents ultimately make for their young children.