Early Childhood Program Enrollment

Publication Date:

Mar 01, 2017


The share of three- to six-year-olds (not yet in kindergarten) in early childhood care and education programs remained relatively constant between 1995 and 2007, ranging from 55 percent in 1995 to 57 percent in 2005; in 2007 it was 55 percent. However, in 2012 the proportion had increased to 61 percent of children. Increases are apparent for all race/Hispanic origins and across the socio-economic spectrum. (Appendix 1)

Differences by Poverty Status

Children in poor families (with incomes below the federal poverty line) and those in low-income families (with incomes between the poverty line and twice the poverty line) are less likely than children in more affluent families to be in center-based programs. In 2012, 46 percent of three- to six-year-olds in poor families, and 52 percent in low-income families, were in such programs, compared with 72 percent of children in families with higher incomes. (Appendix 1)

Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin*

08_fig1Hispanic children are less likely than white or black children to be in center-based programs. In 2012, 52 percent of Hispanic three- to six-year-olds attended such programs, compared with 63 percent of white children, 65 percent of black children, and 64 percent of Asian children. The rate among Hispanic children increased by one-third between 2007 and 2012, from 39 to 52 percent. (Figure 1)

* Hispanics may be any race. Estimates for whites and blacks in this report do not include Hispanics.


Differences by Mother’s Highest Level of

08_fig2Mothers with higher levels of education are more likely to enroll their children in early care and education programs than are mothers with less education.   In 2012, 43 percent of three- to six-year-olds whose mothers had not completed high school participated in such programs, compared with 50 percent whose mothers were high school graduates, 58 percent whose mothers had at least some vocational/technical training or college, and 79 percent whose mothers were college graduates. (Figure 2)

Differences by Mother’s Employment Status

08_fig3In 2012, children three to six years old with working mothers were more likely than their peers whose mothers did not work to attend early childhood care and education programs, although the gap decreased between 2007 and 2012. Sixty-seven percent of children whose mother worked full-time or part-time were in center-based care, compared with 59 percent who had mothers looking for work, and 52 percent whose mothers were not in the labor force. However, the proportion of children with mothers who were looking for work who were in center-based care increased 21 percentage points between 2007 and 2012, while the rate among employed mothers remained relatively constant. (Figure 3).

Differences by Region

08_fig4In 2012, children living in the Northeast were significantly more likely than those living in the West to be in center-based care, at 70 and 53 percent, respectively. Those in the South and Midwest fell in the middle, at 64 and 59 percent, respectively(Figure 4)

Differences by Family Type

Children living with two unmarried parents are less likely than their peers in other family types to be enrolled in center-based care. In 2012, 48 percent of three- to six-year-olds not yet in kindergarten who lived with two unmarried parents were in center-based care, compared with 58 percent of those living with one parent, 62 percent of children living with two married parents, and 65 percent living with no parents. (Appendix 1)

Other Estimates

State and Local Estimates

For 2005-2012 state estimates of the number of children not enrolled in nursery school, preschool or kindergarten, total and by poverty status see the KIDS COUNT Data Center.

For 2009 state estimates of the number of children enrolled in pre-k in public schools only, see Digest of Education Statistics 2012, Chapter 2, Table 37.

International Estimates

For the percentage of children ages three to four enrolled in pre-primary and primary education in selected countries for 2008, see the NCES publication Comparative Indicators of Education in the United States and Other G-8 Countries: 2011. (Indicator 2)

For the 2008 enrollment of children age 4 and under in OECD countries, see Key Indicators on Education. (Table C1.1)

Data and Appendix

Data Source

Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. (2014). America’s children: Key national indicators of well-being, 2014, Table Fam3B. Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available at: http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/index.asp

Raw Data Source

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Household Education Survey (NHES)



Appendix 1 – Percentage of Children, Ages 3 to 6, in Center-Based Care: Selected Years, 1995-2012



Center-based early childhood care and education programs include day care centers, Head Start programs, nursery schools, preschools, pre-kindergarten programs, and other early childhood programs.

Suggested Citation

Child Trends Databank. (2014). Early childhood program enrollment. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=early-childhood-program-enrollment


Last updated: August 2014