Like child age, participation in ECE also varied by family income, and the disparity between low- and higher-income children’s enrollment remained relatively stable over this time period. In 2005, children under age five in low-income families (below 200 percent of the FPL) were 18 percentage points less likely to be in any child care arrangement compared to children in higher-income families (above 200 percent of the FPL): whereas 67 percent of higher-income children under age five were in some ECE arrangement, only 49 percent of lower-income children were in any ECE arrangement (NHES Table 1.8).
Furthermore, there was a difference in the use of center-based care by family income. Figure 6 shows that in 2005, children at each age from low-income families were less likely to be in center-based arrangements than their higher-income peers of the same age (although this difference was only marginally significant for infants under one year). The income gap in the use of center care was larger for older children across this time period. At each given age between birth and age four, a child from a higher-income family was as likely to be in center care as a child one year older from a low-income family. For example, one-year-olds in higher income families were as likely or more likely to be in center care as two-year-olds in low-income families (22 and 21 percent, respectively). Similarly, higher income two-year-olds were as likely to be in center care as low-income three-year-olds (34 and 32 percent, respectively).
The CPS data confirm this persistent disparity in preschool participation by income among three- and four-year-old children (visible in Figure 7). From 1995 to 2011, preschool participation increased among children in low-income families from 36 percent to 42 percent, but there was no significant change among their higher-income peers (58 to 59 percent; CPS Table 1.6). In 2011, the income gap for preschoolers remained at approximately 17 percentage points.