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New research finds that kids from households on higher socioeconomic rungs tend to spend less time with their parents, but also receive higher quality care.
Kids from higher-income and better educated families spend less time with their parents and more time in the care of others, but they also tend to receive higher quality care compared to children in families lower down on the socio-economic ladder.
That’s according to a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. The study focuses on parental and non-parental care provided to children up to the age of six, comparing it between families at different socio-economic levels. Non-parental care for high socio-economic status kids, the researchers find, is more likely to be in child care centers, where the average quality is higher, and less likely to be provided by relatives where average quality is often lower.
The study authors use the educational attainment of mothers as a proxy for socioeconomic status, saying that this is typically correlated with other variables, like income, family wealth and the types of neighborhoods people live in. In other words, if the mother in a family is better educated, it’s likely that the household will be better off on a number of fronts.
The researchers say that children born to lower socio-economic families tend to experience lower quality care in all of the settings they looked at, including when with their parents and when in the care of others. They measure the quality of care in a variety of ways, taking into consideration factors like the activities kids engage in, and outside observer ratings.
One finding is that quality levels tend to persist over the years of childhood the study authors looked at, meaning kids receiving lower quality care early on are generally unlikely to see it improve as time passes.
The researchers also say that high socio-economic status children spend, on average, roughly 10 fewer hours per week with their parents and that children who receive higher quality care from their parents tend to get better care from others who look after them as well.
Based on the findings, there appear to be shifts taking place during recent decades in how much time parents at different educational attainment levels are spending with their kids.
In the early 2000s, the paper notes, it was reported that mothers with a high school degree or less were spending roughly the same number of hours in total caregiving for children as mothers with a bachelor’s degree or more. But by the late 2010s, college educated moms spent about 70 hours in total on child care, compared to about 80 hours for mothers with a high school degree or less.
Head Start, one of the nation’s largest government subsidy programs for child care, can help to reduce inequality with care, the researchers say. But they add that the program is mainly available to older children and that only the lowest income families are eligible.
Another important caveat about the study: It relies on data from before the Covid-19 pandemic.
The authors are from the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
For the full paper click here.
Andre Claudio is assistant editor at Route Fifty