Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Importance of Child-Care Characteristics to Choice of Care

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Importance of Child-Care Characteristics to Choice of Care

Article excerpt

This article examines the influence of importance ratings of intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics of child care on parents' choice of care, using data from the National Longitudinal Survey-72. We find that parents who value developmental characteristics of care chose center care and that parents for whom hours, location, and cost of care are important chose care at home. Choice of family day care increased if parents thought it was important that the child know the caregiver. Several key determinants, such as mother's education, affect child-care choice primarily by increasing the importance that parents place on various characteristics of care.

ANNE S. JOHANSEN European Commission


LINDA J. WAITE University of Chicago**

In recent years many researchers have sought to understand the way that working parents choose care for their children (Blau, 1991; Hofferth & Wissoker, 1992; Lehrer, 1983; Leibowitz, Waite, & Witsberger, 1988; Waite, Leibowitz, & Witsberger 1991). These studies approach the choice of child care as though it were identical to any other decision-as a function of price and quality-with the expectation that the demand for child care is greater the lower the price and higher the quality. Most of these studies adopt a definition of child-care quality from developmental psychology (Hofferth & Wissoker, 1992; Kisker & Maynard, 1991; Leibowitz et al., 1988; Waite et al., 1991) that measures quality by provider/child ratios, group size, and educational levels of providers. We refer to these intrinsic features of care-those that affect the child's experience directly-as educational or developmental characteristics.

Parents who are making choices about child care may weigh many features of child care in addition to-or instead of-its quality for the child. They may care about the cost of care, about its reliability, about location, or about the hours that care is available. We know very little about the role these considerations of the extrinsic characteristics of care play in the child-care choices that parents make.

In this article we use data from the National Longitudinal Survey of the High School Class of 1972 (NLS-72) to investigate both intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics of child care that parents report they have considered when choosing care for their preschool child. We examine the characteristics of parents that affect the importance that they place on different features of child care. We analyze the influence of these importance ratings-as well as demographic, economic, and policy factors--on the type of child care parents choose.

We generally lack direct measures of the importance that parents place on various attributes of child care, which we also can think of as the weights that they give these attributes when they choose a type of care. Without direct measures of these attributes, previous research has tended to rely on proxies, such as mother's education, occupation, or hours of work (Lehrer & Kawasaki, 1985; Leibowitz et al., 1988). The NLS-72 has direct reports from mothers on how important a number of intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics were to them when they chose child care. We estimate models of the importance of intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics of child care to parents, and we use these to estimate the relationship between the importance parents place on particular aspects of care and their choice of specific types of care.

In theory, the number of child-care options available to a mother is infinite, but in practice child-care options fall into a small number of discrete categories. We follow previous research in distinguishing between care at home, care in someone else's home (i.e., family day care homes), and center-based care (Phillips, 1987). The literature dealing with the developmental and health consequences of different types of care also makes this distinction because the average group size in which children are cared for varies according to the location of the care (Johansen, Leibowitz, & Waite, 1988; Leibowitz et al. …

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