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Preprimary, Elementary, and Secondary Education

Early Childhood Care Arrangements: Choices and Costs

(Last Updated: May 2018)

Child care costs have changed over time for children under the age of 6 who are not yet enrolled in kindergarten. In 2016, the average hourly out-of-pocket expense for families of children in center-based care was 72 percent higher than in 2001 ($7.60 vs. $4.42, in constant 2016–17 dollars), the expense for families of children in nonrelative care was 48 percent higher than in 2001 ($6.54 vs. $4.42), and the expense for families of children in relative care was 79 percent higher than in 2001 ($4.99 vs. $2.78).

Child care arrangements are influential in children’s early education; children often learn skills in child care settings that not only are important for kindergarten entry but also can have a lasting impact on their development into adulthood.1,2 In 2016, about 60 percent of the 21.4 million children under 6 years old who were not yet enrolled in kindergarten were in some type of nonparental care arrangement on a regular basis. Newly released data from the 2016 Early Childhood Program Participation survey (ECPP), a part of the National Household Education Surveys (NHES) Program, provide new insights about children’s participation in nonparental care arrangements, including relative care, nonrelative care, and center-based care arrangements.

This spotlight uses ECPP survey data to explore whether children’s parents report that there are good choices for child care or early childhood programs (also referred to as “child care” in this indicator) where they live; how much difficulty they have finding the type of child care they want for their children; what the primary reason is for the difficulty finding child care; and what the average out-of-pocket costs are for child care arrangements. Findings are presented overall, as well as by children’s age, race/ethnicity, household income, and geographic locale (urban, suburban, town, or rural).

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Figure 1. Percentage distribution of children by whether their parents/guardians felt there were good choices for child care or early childhood programs where they live, by selected child and family characteristics: 2016
Figure 1. Percentage distribution of children by whether their parents/guardians felt there were good choices for child care or early childhood programs where they live, by selected child and family characteristics: 2016

1 Reporting standards for Pacific Islanders and American Indians/Alaska Natives were not met; therefore, data for these groups are not shown in the figure. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.

NOTE: Data represent children who were under 6 years old and were not yet in kindergarten. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Program Participation Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (ECPP-NHES:2016). See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 202.30b.

Figure 2. Percentage distribution of children by their parents/guardians’ reported level of difficulty finding the type of child care or early childhood program they wanted, by selected child and family characteristics: 2016
Figure 2. Percentage distribution of children by their parents/guardians’ reported level of difficulty finding the type of child care or early childhood program they wanted, by selected child and family characteristics: 2016

! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.

1 Reporting standards for Pacific Islanders and American Indians/Alaska Natives were not met; therefore, data for these groups are not shown in the figure. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.

NOTE: Data represent children who were under 6 years old and were not yet in kindergarten. Data exclude children whose parents/guardians did not try to find care. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Program Participation Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (ECPP-NHES:2016). See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 202.30b.

Figure 3. Percentage distribution of children by their parents/guardians’ primary reason for difficulty finding child care or an early childhood program, by selected child and family characteristics: 2016
Figure 3. Percentage distribution of children by their parents/guardians’ primary reason for difficulty finding child care or an early childhood program, by selected child and family characteristics: 2016

! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.

1 Reporting standards for Pacific Islanders and American Indians/Alaska Natives were not met; therefore, data for these groups are not shown in the figure. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.

NOTE: Data represent children who were under 6 years old and were not yet in kindergarten. Estimates exclude children whose parent/guardian reported either “have not tried to find care” or “no difficulty” finding the type of child care or early childhood program wanted. In addition, estimates also excluded nine cases whose parent/guardian reported “not applicable, did not look for care” in the open-ended response of “some other reason.” Categories not shown in the figure have been suppressed because reporting standards were not met; either there are too few cases for a reliable estimate or the coefficient of variation (CV) is 50 percent or greater. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding and suppressed data.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Program Participation Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (ECPP-NHES:2016). See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 202.30a.

Figure 4. Average hourly out-of-pocket child care expense for children under 6 years old and not yet in kindergarten whose families paid for child care, by primary type of child care arrangement: 2001 and 2016
Figure 4. Average hourly out-of-pocket child care expense for children under 6 years old and not yet in kindergarten whose families paid for child care, by primary type of child care arrangement: 2001 and 2016

1 Center-based arrangements include day care centers, Head Start programs, preschools, prekindergartens, and childhood programs.

NOTE: Average hourly expenses are reported in constant 2016–17 dollars, adjusted using the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Estimates include only those children whose families paid at least part of the cost out of pocket for their child to receive nonparental care at least weekly. Children for whom no fee was charged, or for whom another source paid the entire fee, are excluded from the estimates. A child’s primary arrangement is the regular nonparental care arrangement or early childhood education program in which the child spent the most time per week. In 2001, National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) surveys were administered via telephone with an interviewer. For NHES:2016, initial contact with all respondents was by mail, and the majority of respondents received paper-and-pencil questionnaires. However, as an experiment with web use, a small sample of NHES:2016 respondents received mailed invitations to complete the survey online.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Program Participation Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (ECPP-NHES: 2001 and 2016). See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 202.30c.

Figure 5. Average hourly out-of-pocket child care expense for children under 6 years old and not yet in kindergarten whose families paid for child care, by primary type of child care arrangement and race/ethnicity: 2016
Figure 5. Average hourly out-of-pocket child care expense for children under 6 years old and not yet in kindergarten whose families paid for child care, by primary type of child care arrangement and race/ethnicity: 2016

! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.

‡ Reporting standards not met. Either there are too few cases for a reliable estimate or the coefficient of variation (CV) is 50 percent or greater.

1 Center-based arrangements include day care centers, Head Start programs, preschools, prekindergartens, and childhood programs.

NOTE: Reporting standards for Pacific Islanders and American Indians/Alaska Natives were not met; therefore, data for these groups are not shown in the figure. Estimates include only those children whose families paid at least part of the cost out of pocket for their child to receive nonparental care at least weekly. Children for whom no fee was charged, or for whom another source paid the entire fee, are excluded from the estimates. A child’s primary arrangement is the regular nonparental care arrangement or early childhood education program in which the child spent the most time per week. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Program Participation Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (ECPP-NHES: 2016). See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 202.30c.

Figure 6. Average hourly out-of-pocket child care expense for children under 6 years old and not yet in kindergarten whose families paid for child care, by primary type of child care arrangement and household income: 2016
Figure 6. Average hourly out-of-pocket child care expense for children under 6 years old and not yet in kindergarten whose families paid for child care, by primary type of child care arrangement and household income: 2016

‡ Reporting standards not met. Either there are too few cases for a reliable estimate or the coefficient of variation (CV) is 50 percent or greater.

1 Center-based arrangements include day care centers, Head Start programs, preschools, prekindergartens, and childhood programs.

NOTE: Estimates include only those children whose families paid at least part of the cost out of pocket for their child to receive nonparental care at least weekly. Children for whom no fee was charged, or for whom another source paid the entire fee, are excluded from the estimates. A A child’s primary arrangement is the regular nonparental care arrangement or early childhood education program in which the child spent the most time per week.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Program Participation Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (ECPP-NHES: 2016). See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 202.30c.

Figure 7. Average hourly out-of-pocket child care expense for children under 6 years old and not yet in kindergarten whose families paid for child care, by primary type of child care arrangement and locale: 2016
Figure 7. Average hourly out-of-pocket child care expense for children under 6 years old and not yet in kindergarten whose families paid for child care, by primary type of child care arrangement and locale: 2016

‡ Reporting standards not met. Either there are too few cases for a reliable estimate or the coefficient of variation (CV) is 50 percent or greater.

1 Center-based arrangements include day care centers, Head Start programs, preschools, prekindergartens, and childhood programs.

NOTE: Estimates include only those children whose families paid at least part of the cost out of pocket for their child to receive nonparental care at least weekly. Children for whom no fee was charged, or for whom another source paid the entire fee, are excluded from the estimates. A A child’s primary arrangement is the regular nonparental care arrangement or early childhood education program in which the child spent the most time per week.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Program Participation Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (ECPP-NHES:2016). See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 202.30c.


1 Flanagan, K.D., and McPhee, C. (2009). The Children Born in 2001 at Kindergarten Entry: First Findings From the Kindergarten Data Collections of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) (NCES 2010-005). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved May 1, 2018, from https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2010005.

2 Heckman, J.J., Moon, S.H., Pinto, R., Savelyev, P.A., and Yavitz, A. (2010). The Rate of Return to the HighScope Perry Preschool Program. Journal of Public Economics, 94(1): 114–128. Retrieved February 16, 2018, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047272709001418.

3 In the remainder of the indicator, references to “children under 6 years old” exclude children who are already enrolled in kindergarten or above.

4 In this indicator, parents refer to parents or guardians.

5 In comparison, the percentage of children whose parents did not know whether there were good choices for child care was highest for children under 1 year old (36 percent), followed by those who were 1 to 2 years old (29 percent), and was lowest for children 3 to 5 years old (18 percent).

6 Due to unstable estimates or unmet reporting standards, the primary reasons of “needing a program for children with special needs” and “some other reason” are not discussed across the selected child and family characteristics.

Supplemental Information

Table 202.30 (Digest 2017): Number of children under 6 years old and not yet enrolled in kindergarten, percentage in center-based programs, average weekly hours in nonparental care, and percentage in various types of primary care arrangements, by selected child and family characteristics: 2016;
Table 202.30a (Digest 2017): Percentage distribution of children who were under 6 years old and not yet in kindergarten, by main reason household wanted a child care program, primary reason for difficulty finding child care, and selected child and family characteristics: 2016;
Table 202.30b (Digest 2017): Percentage distribution of children who were under 6 years old and not yet in kindergarten, by reported availability of good child care choices, amount of difficulty finding the type of child care wanted, and selected child and family characteristics: 2012 and 2016;
Table 202.30c (Digest 2017): Number of children under 6 years old and not yet in kindergarten whose families paid for child care, and families’ average out-of-pocket expense, by type of child care arrangement and selected child and family characteristics: 2001 and 2016
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