This report provides a descriptive comparison of the early care and education (ECE) landscape across rural, moderate-density urban (suburban), and high-density urban areas. The goal of this comparison was to understand whether ECE availability and characteristics in rural areas differ from those in more densely populated communities. We used nationally representative data on both households with young children and ECE providers to describe availability of care, use of and need for child care, and setting and workforce characteristics in rural, moderate-density urban, and high-density urban areas. Key findings from this report relate to the following:

Availability and use of care

  • In absolute numbers, more ECE providers of every provider type (e.g., center-based, listed home-based, unlisted paid home-based) were available in high-density urban areas than in rural areas. Center-based care comprised about 50 percent of all care that was provided in a center or listed home; this was true across rural and more urban areas. In terms of the number of families per provider, there were fewer families per center-based and home-based provider in rural areas than in more urban areas.
  • A smaller proportion of centers served infants and toddlers in rural areas than in both moderate- and high-density urban areas. A smaller proportion of infants and toddlers in rural areas regularly used center-based care than those in moderate-density (but not high-density) urban areas.
  • There were no significant differences by rurality in the ages of children served by listed or unlisted paid home-based providers.

Families’ need for and difficulties finding care

  • In rural areas, less than 50 percent of families with infants and toddlers searched for care in the past year. This percentage is proportionally lower than families in moderate-density urban areas and proportionally similar to families in high-density urban areas.
  • Findings signal that families in rural and moderate-density urban areas may have a greater need for care during nonstandard hours (overnight and weekend hours). While few families in any area worked solely nonstandard hours, proportionally more families in rural and moderate-density urban areas reported working a mix of both standard and nonstandard hours, than families in high-density urban areas.
  • Failure to find care was highest among households in high-density urban communities (13%). In rural communities, fewer than 8 percent of families reported experiencing any indicator of difficulty finding care.

Characteristics of ECE centers and homes by rurality

  • Compared to centers in high-density urban areas, a higher percentage of rural centers were sponsored by a public school or received funding from Head Start or public pre-K. Transportation was offered by a greater proportion of rural centers than centers in high-density urban areas, which may be linked to sponsorship by public schools, Head start, or public pre-K funding.
  • No significant differences in selected indicators of provider quality (such as turnover rates or providing or referring to ancillary servicesa) were observed among rural, moderate-density, or high-density urban centers or homes.

Characteristics of ECE center-based and home-based workforces by rurality

  • Listed home-based teachers and caregivers in rural areas reported taking fewer professional development opportunities than their counterparts in moderate-density and high-density urban areas. A higher percentage of listed home-based teachers and caregivers in rural areas had an ECE certification than their peers in moderate-density urban areas. However, rural listed home-based teachers and caregivers were not significantly different from their peers in high-density urban areas in terms of ECE certification.
  • Unlisted paid home-based teachers and caregivers in rural areas reported more years of experience working with children than their peers in high-density urban areas, but not more than those in moderate-density urban areas.

These findings suggest both a limited supply of center-based infant and toddler care and limited demand for this care in rural communities. However, these findings cannot determine whether the supply drives demand or demand reflects supply. In addition, findings suggest a limited number of providers offering nonstandard hours of care. In terms of workforce characteristics, findings suggest that listed home-based teachers and caregivers in rural areas may benefit from additional professional supports such as involvement in quality initiatives and professional organizations. Although current findings are representative of ECE in communities of various population densities at a national level, the findings should be supplemented with research using regional or state data to better understand the supply and demand of rural ECE at a more local level.


Footnote

a Ancillary services include health, developmental assessments, therapy (e.g., speech), counseling, or social services.