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Home > Research Articles > Child Care Patterns of Infants and Toddlers

Urban Institute, 2001

Saturday, February 09, 2002

Child Care Patterns of All Infants and Toddlers of Employed Mothers

Seventy-three percent of infants and toddlers of employed mothers are primarily cared for by someone other than a parent while their mother is working.

Twenty-seven percent are cared for by relatives; 22 percent are cared for in centers; 17 percent are cared for in family child care settings; and 7 percent are in the care of nannies or babysitters.

Thirty-nine percent of infants and toddlers of employed mothers are in care full-time. The average time in nonparental care per week for infants and toddlers of employed mothers is 25 hours.

Thirty-four percent of infants and toddlers of working mothers are in two or more nonparental arrangements.

Child Care Patterns of Infants and Toddlers with Different Characteristics

Different Ages

Center care increases for young children of working mothers between infancy (under one year of age) and two years of age (15 versus 27 percent). Relative and parent care decrease for young children between infancy and two years of age (32 versus 23 percent for relative care and 33 versus 26 percent for parent care).

The use of full-time nonparental care increases between infancy (under one year of age) and two years of age (32 versus 43 percent).

Placement in two or more nonparental arrangements increases between infancy (under one year of age) and two years of age (28 versus 38 percent).

Different Racial and Ethnic Backgrounds

Center care is more common for black and white children with working mothers than for Hispanic children (30 percent for blacks, 24 percent for whites, and 10 percent for Hispanics). Yet relative care is more common for Hispanic compared with black and white children (39 percent for Hispanics, 27 percent for blacks, and 25 percent for whites). Use of parent care does not differ depending on racial and ethnic background.

Black children with working mothers are more likely to be in care full-time than are white and Hispanic children (58 percent for black children, 36 percent for white children, and 34 percent for Hispanic children).

Differences by Mother’s Education

Center care is more common among children of more highly educated mothers, increasing from 6 percent of children with mothers with less than a high school diploma to 27 percent of children with mothers with a college degree. Relative care is much less common among young children of more highly educated mothers, with the proportion of children in relative care decreasing from 50 percent of children with mothers with less than a high school diploma to 16 percent of children of mothers with a college degree. The use of parent care while the mother worked does not differ depending on education.

The hours young children of working mothers spend in care each week do not differ depending on the education of the mother.

Spending time in two or more arrangements is more common for children of mothers with high school diplomas or college degrees. Thirty-five percent of children of parents with a high school diploma and 34 percent of those whose mothers have a college degree fall into this category, compared with only 21 percent of children of parents with less than a high school diploma.

Differences by Family Income

Use of different types of care varies when looking at three income groups: poor families (incomes less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level [FPL]), low-income families (incomes between 100 and 200 percent of FPL), and higher-income families (incomes above 200 percent of FPL). Center care is used more commonly for the children of higher-income families compared with children from low-income families. Relative care is most common for low-income families, with 39 percent of these children in this type of care, in contrast with 28 percent of poor families and 23 percent of higher-income families. The use of parent care does not differ depending on income.

Infants and toddlers of working mothers spend more time in nonparental care as family income increases. Young children in poor families spend an average of 21 hours a week in care, compared with children in higher-income families who spend 26 hours a week in care.

Differences by Family Structure

Children of single- and two-parent families use center-based care at similar levels (26 and 22 percent). However, children of single parents are more likely than two-parent families to rely on relatives (38 versus 24 percent) and less likely to rely on parent care (13 versus 31 percent).

Young children of single parents spend more time in nonparental care than young children of two-parent families. On average, infants and toddlers of single parents are in care for more hours per week (34 versus 23 hours). More young children of single parents are in care full-time (60 versus 34 percent).

Differences by Parent Availability

The types of care used differ depending on the amount of time parents have available. Use of center care is more common among parents with less time available, decreasing from 26 percent of children with one parent working full-time to 13 percent of children in two-parent, partially employed families. Reliance on parent care is more common among parents with more time available, increasing from 10 percent of children with one parent working full-time to 44 percent of children in two-parent, partially employed families.

Time in nonparental care declines dramatically as parent availability increases. Young children of parents with the least time available—single parents working full-time—spend an average of 35 hours per week in nonparental care; 67 percent are in care full-time. In contrast, children of parents with the most time available—two-parent, partially employed families—spend an average of 13 hours a week in nonparental care, with only 10 percent in care full-time.

Child Care Patterns for Children in Relative Care

Twenty-seven percent of all infants and toddlers of employed mothers are being cared for primarily by a relative. This type of care is of interest to policymakers as states are increasingly providing public child care subsidy funds to help families pay for informal child care arrangements, such as relative care. Yet information on the characteristics and quality of these arrangements is minimal.

Fifty-one percent of infants and toddlers in relative arrangements are cared for with at least one additional child. These multichild settings are more common for children cared for in a relative’s home compared with children cared for in their own homes (59 versus 39 percent) and for children cared for in their own homes from lower-income families compared with children from higher-income families (49 versus 31 percent).

Ninety-six percent of children in relative care are cared for by a provider 18 years of age or older.

For 45 percent of infants and toddlers cared for in their own homes by a relative, the relative provider also lives with the family.