New Study Contrasts Advantages and Disadvantages for Rural and Non-Rural Children in Care and Development

Washington, DC – Child Trends and the National Center for Rural Early Childhood Learning Initiatives at Mississippi State University have released a report examining the advantages and disadvantages of early childhood development in rural areas in the United States. The report helps to address a gap identified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, indicating that there is a lack of reliable data about the state of young children, ages 0-8, in rural areas in America, and that less is known about the quality, availability, use, and cost of human services in rural America than in non-rural America.


The findings in Rural Disparities in Baseline Data of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study: A Chartbook suggest that rural life offers young children some advantages at home and in early care and education settings in comparison to the experiences of non-rural children. Those advantages include greater likelihood of:

  • Contact with a non-resident or non-custodial parent within the previous four weeks for children not living with their fathers
  • Enrollment in a Head Start program during the year prior to kindergarten
  • Small kindergarten class size (15 or fewer children),
  • An orderly kindergarten class.
  • Ratings of child social competence
  • Regular family dinners, and
  • Safe neighborhoods.


Yet some differences showed young children in rural areas at a disadvantage relative to their non-rural peers. For example,

  • Mothers of infants in rural areas are more likely to report feelings of depression
  • Other than Head Start, young children in rural areas are less likely to participate in center-based early care and education, a type of care that has been found to predict better language and cognitive development in children.
  • At kindergarten entry, a lower proportion of rural children are proficient in letter recognition, and identifying the beginning sounds of words.

The National Center for Rural Early Childhood Learning Initiatives commissioned the analysis by Child Trends.  The center is funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, although its research results do not represent the policy of that department.


According to Martha Zaslow, Ph.D., Senior Scholar and Vice President for Research with Child Trends, “The findings paint a more detailed and nuanced picture of the needs of young children and their families in rural areas of America. For example, whole social competence is stronger on average for children in rural than non-rural areas, early literacy is weaker for young rural children.”


Cathy Grace, Ed.D., director of the National Center for Rural Early Childhood Learning Initiatives and a professor at Mississippi State University, commented, “These findings help to specify where to target efforts.  For example, strengthening the early language and literacy stimulation that young children receive is among the potential targets for work with young children in rural areas.”


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About Child Trends

Child Trends is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center serving those dedicated to creating better lives for children and youth.


About the National Center for Rural Early Childhood Learning Initiatives

The National Center for Rural Early Childhood Learning Initiatives fosters original and applied research on the quality, accessibility, and replication of early educational intervention services for at-risk young children and families in rural America. The center is a program of the Mississippi State University Early Childhood Institute.