Ethnic Differences in Child Care Selection

The Influence of Family Structure, Parental Practices, and Home Language
Xiaoyan Liang
The World Bank
Bruce Fuller
University of California, Berkeley
Judith D. Singer
Harvard Graduate School of Education


Recent work reveals sharp disparities in which types of children participate in center and preschools. Enrollment rates are especially low for Latino children, relative to Black and Anglo preschoolers, a gap that remains after taking into account maternal employment and family income. Early attempts to model parents' likelihood of enrolling their youngster in a center have drawn heavily from the household-economics tradition, emphasizing the influence of cost and family income. Yet this article shows that after controlling for household-economic factors, the household's social structure and the mother's language, child-rearing beliefs, and practices further help to predict the probability of selecting a center-based program. Children are more likely to be enrolled in a center when the mother defines child rearing as an explicit process that should impart school-related skills—reading to her youngster, frequenting the library, teaching cooperative skills, and speaking English. After taking these social factors into account, ethnic differences in center selection still operate: African American families continue to participate at higher rates for reasons that may not be solely attributable to family-level processes, such as greater access to Head Start centers or state preschools. In addition, the lower center selection rate for Latinos appears to be lodged primarily in those families which speak Spanish in the home, further pointing to how cultural preference are diverse and interact with the local supply of centers. These findings stem from an analysis of whether, and at what age, a national sample of 3,624 children first entered a center, using discerete-time survival analysis. This article discusses how center selection can be seen as one element of a broader parental agenda, linked to parents' acculturation to middle-class Anglo commitments, and involving the task of getting one's child ready for school.

This article was originally published in the Early Child Research Quarterly by Ablex Publishing and Elsevier.

Suggested citationLiang, X., Fuller, B., & Singer, J. D. (2000, January). Ethnic differences in child care selection: The influence of family structure, parental practices, and home language [Article]. Policy Analysis for California Education.