Child Care

Publication Date:

Aug 23, 2016

Trends in child care21_fig1

The types of care employed mothers predominantly use by for their young children (ages birth to four) have changed in the past 35 years, but utilization of some types has remained steady. Between 1977 and 1993, the proportion of children in center-based programs increased greatly, from 13 to 30 percent. After decreasing to 23 percent in 1997, it has since increased, and was at 26 percent in 2011. Another strong trend has been a consistent decline in the percentage of children who were cared for by a non-relative at home, which fell from 29 to 14 percent between 1977 and 2011. The percentage of children who were cared for by a relative followed a generally upward trend until1999, when it was 30 percent. However, for the past decade, this proportion has remained fairly steady: between 25 and 27 percent. Between 1977 and 2011, the percentage of children whose primary caregiver during working hours was a parent has fluctuated between 22 and 29 percent. (Figure 1)

Trends in out-of-school care for older children (ages 5 to 14) whose mothers are employed are similar to those outlined above. The percentage who participated in enrichment activities has decreased since 1995. For instance, among 12- to 14-year-olds, this proportion fell from 42 percent in 1995 to 18 percent in 2011. Since 1997, the proportion of grade-school students who spent some time caring for themselves has also decreased. In 1997, 48 percent of 12- to 14-year-olds, and 21 percent of 9- to 11-year-olds, spent some time taking care of themselves while their mothers were working. In 2011, the percentages were 32 and 10 percent, respectively. (Appendix 2)

Differences by age21_fig2

Among children not yet in school, the proportion in parental care only declines with age, with 30 percent of children less than a year old cared for solely by a parent, and 22 percent of children at ages three to four. Care at home by a relative or non-relative shows a similar pattern, with 30 and 20 percent of children under a year old receiving at-home care by a relative or non-relative, respectively; among children ages three to four, these figures are 22 and 11 percent, respectively. Use of center-based programs increases as children get older, with 15 percent of those under one year, 26 percent of those one to two years, and 30 percent of those three to four years in this type of care, in 2011. (Appendix 1)

Among grade-schoolers, the proportion who spend some time taking care of themselves when their mother is at work and they are not in school increases with age. While only two percent of children ages five to eight take care of themselves, 10 percent of those ages nine to eleven, and 33 percent of those ages 12 to 14 do so. Out-of-school enrichment activities are most common among nine- to eleven-year-olds (21 percent), followed by younger and older children (18 percent, each). The prevalence of all other forms of care generally declines with age. (Figure 2)

Differences by race/Hispanic origin[1]21_fig3

Among children ages birth through four whose mother is employed, black children are least likely to be in parental care, at 17 percent, while Hispanic children are most likely, at 29 percent. Black children are most likely to be in center-based care, at 31 percent, while Hispanic children are least likely, at 14 percent. Both black and Hispanic children are more likely to be cared for by a relative in the home, at 35 and 36 percent, respectively, than are their white and Asian peers (at 24 and 25 percent, respectively). However, white and Asian children are more likely to be cared for in a home by a non-relative (at 16 and 15 percent, respectively), compared with 11 percent of Hispanic children, and 8 percent of black children. (Figure 3)

Differences by poverty status

Poor and low-income children, ages birth to four, who have employed mothers are less likely to be in a center-based program than are children in families with incomes at least twice the federal poverty level (19 and 22 percent, respectively, versus 29 percent, in 2011). This gap has fluctuated over time, but was largest in 2010. Poor and low-income children are more likely to be cared for by a relative at home than are children from families with higher incomes (33 and 30 percent, respectively, versus 25 percent, in 2011). Low-income children are more likely than either poor children, or children in families with higher incomes, to be cared for by a parent during working hours (31 percent, versus 26 and 21 percent, respectively). (Appendix 1)

Differences by mother’s education

Children whose mothers have less education are less likely to be in non-parental care during their mother’s working hours. Fifty-eight percent of children whose mothers lack a high school diploma, compared with 70 percent of those whose mothers have a college degree or more, use non-parental care as their primary form of childcare. For children cared for by a parent, data showed a different pattern in 2011, partially because a high proportion of mothers with little education reported no regular source of care: 19 percent of mothers with no high school diploma, compared with 9-11 percent of mothers with more education.[2] Child care by a relative is used by 20 percent of college-educated mothers, and by 36 percent of mothers who have less than a high school education. Twelve percent of children whose mothers did not have a high school diploma primarily used center-based care, compared with 19 percent whose mothers had a high school diploma or GED, 22 percent of those whose mothers had some college, and 35 percent of those whose mother had at least a bachelor’s degree (in 2011). (Appendix 1)

Differences by Mother’s Employment Status21_fig4

Although data on child care arrangements for children of mothers who are not working are limited, some findings stand out. Among children ages birth to four who were not in school in 2011, 72 percent of those whose mothers were not working had no regular care arrangement,[3] including 83 percent of those whose mothers were not in the labor force, 51 percent of those whose mothers were looking for work, and 18 percent of those whose mothers were in school. Multiple care arrangements were present for four percent of those whose mothers were not in the labor force, for12 percent among those whose mothers were looking for work, and for 30 percent of those whose mothers were in school. (Figure 4)

In comparison, 12 percent of children of employed mothers had no regular care arrangement.[4] Thirty-three percent of children with employed mothers were in center-based care, compared with 12 percent whose mothers were not employed.[5] Eighteen percent of children ages birth to four were in multiple care arrangements: 27 percent of those with employed mothers, and 8 percent of those whose mothers were not employed.[6] Among children with employed mothers, the percent with multiple care arrangements ranged from 30 percent (among those whose mothers were employed part-time), to 24 percent (among those with self-employed mothers. (Figure 4)

International estimates

Kamerman, S. B. (2000). Early childhood education
and care: An overview of developments in the OECD countries. International Journal of Educational Research, 33, 7-79. (See Table 1.21)

For countries within the European Union, the Eurostat database on income and living conditions includes information on formal and parental child care.

Data and appendices

Data sources

Raw data source

U.S. Census Bureau, Survey of Income and Program Participation



Parental care is defined as care by a father or mother during the mother’s working hours. Non-parental care is defined as care in a home by either a relative (other than a parent, such as a sibling or grandparent) or non-relative (such as a nanny or home-based day-care), or care in a center-based program such as a day care center, pre-kindergarten, nursery school, Head Start, or other early childhood program. For children in kindergarten and beyond, non-parental care can also include self-care. Self-care is defined as looking after oneself regularly before or after school.


[1]Hispanics may be any race. Estimates for whites and blacks do not include Hispanics.

[2]U.S. Census Bureau. Table 1B:  Child Care Arrangements of Preschoolers Under 5 Years Old Living with Mother, by Employment Status of Mother and Selected Characteristics:  2011.  Who’s Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2011 – Detailed Tables. Table 2B. Available at:

[3]Ibid. Table 1B.

[4]Ibid. Table 1B.

[5]Ibid. Table 1B.

[6]Ibid. Table 1B.

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends. (2016). Child care. Available at: