Recent policy discussions involving ways to improve the well-being of young children and their families have placed increased attention on the importance of child care and early education programs. Research suggests that, although parental influences are important, the quality of non-parental care arrangements has long lasting effects on child development (Belsky, Vandell, Burchinal, Clarke-Stewart, McCartney, & Owen, 2007; Vandell & Wolfe, 2000; Zaslow, Halle, Guzman, Lavelle, Dombrowski, Berry, & Dent, 2006). Research also suggests that access to child care may be a factor in the employment and earning patterns of families, especially those with limited incomes and those transitioning from government assistance programs into the workforce (Schaefer, Kreader, & Collins, 2006).
While the body of literature regarding the relationship between non-parental care and child development has increased considerably over recent years, it is still a growing field with remaining knowledge gaps. One area where additional research could be beneficial is analysis on child care arrangements and early education programs in rural areas. As discussed later in the paper, families residing in rural areas, on average, have smaller household incomes and live in less densely populated areas than urban families. These differences could potentially influence the availability of certain types of non-parental care in rural areas if child care providers are unable to attract enough families with the desire, transportation, and financial resources to participate in them. Lower population densities might also be related to the quality of some care arrangements if rural child care providers are unable to offer high enough salaries to attract more highly qualified caregivers.
Using data from the National Household Education Survey (NHES), this paper furthers our understanding of child care and geography by comparing and contrasting the non-parental care arrangements of children living in urban and rural areas of the United States.