Economic and Social Reports
Patterns of participation in early learning and child care among families with potential socioeconomic disadvantages in Canada

by Leanne C. Findlay, Lan Wei and Rubab Arim
Release date: August 25, 2021

DOI: https://doi.org/10.25318/36280001202100800002-eng

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Abstract

Various studies have shown that children from socioeconomically disadvantaged families are more likely to have poorer outcomes than children from more advantaged families and that such gaps could be reduced by participating in early learning and child care (ELCC). However, the patterns of ELCC participation, such as rates of participation, types of care arrangements and care hours, may differ between families with and without socioeconomic disadvantages, and such differences may limit the role of ELCC in improving children’s well-being and families’ opportunities for education or employment. Using the 2019 Survey on Early Learning and Child Care Arrangements, a nationally representative survey that provides detailed information on child care for children aged 0 to 5 years linked to additional socioeconomic information, this study examines the patterns of ELCC participation among families with potential socioeconomic disadvantages in Canada. Low-income families were about 20% less likely than families not in low income to use non-parental child care. After other sociodemographic characteristics were controlled for, the income-based gap in child care use shrank, but persisted. More than one-third of all parents who were using child care reported having difficulties finding a child care arrangement. Finding child care available in the local community and finding affordable child care were the two most frequently reported difficulties. Because of the difficulties in finding a child care arrangement, low-income parents and lone parents were more than twice as likely to postpone or discontinue their schooling or training compared with parents not in low income and parents in two-parent families.

Keywords: child care; low socioeconomic status; family income; parental education; lone parent

Authors

Lan Wei is with the Centre for Income and Socioeconomic Well-being Statistics at Statistics Canada. Leanne Findlay is with the Health Analysis Division, Analytical Studies and Modelling Branch, at Statistics Canada. Rubab Arim is with the Social Analysis and Modelling Division, Analytical Studies and Modelling Branch, at Statistics Canada.

Introduction

Various studies have shown a positive relationship between participating in early learning and child care (ELCC) and child developmental outcomes and parents’ participation in the labour market (Havnes and Mogstad 2011; Lefebvre and Merrigan 2008; Romano, Kohen and Findlay 2010). More specifically, studies have found that the potential benefits of ELCC on child development are greater for children from families with socioeconomic disadvantages (Ruhm and Waldfogel 2012; Van Huizen and Plantenga 2018). However, the patterns of ELCC participation, such as rates of participation, types of care arrangements and care hours, may differ between families with and without socioeconomic disadvantages, and such differences may limit the role of ELCC in children’s well-being and families’ opportunities for education or employment.

However, the research that has examined patterns of early child care use among families with socioeconomic disadvantages in Canada is limited, with little information based on recent data. In addition, little is known about the extent to which families with socioeconomic disadvantages have difficulties in finding child care, the types of difficulties they face and the consequences of such difficulties. Thus, the purpose of this study is to examine child care use among three types of families with potential socioeconomic disadvantages: low-income families, families with low-educated parents and lone-parent families. The focus is on these socioeconomic conditions because previous research has shown that children from low-income families, children with low-educated parents and children from lone-parent families are more likely to have poorer health, behavioural and developmental outcomes (Currie and Stabile 2003; Cutler and Lleras-Muney 2010; McLanahan, Tach and Schneider 2013), and therefore are more likely to experience positive outcomes associated with participating in ELCC (OECD 2016).

Use of non-parental child care among children living in families with potential socioeconomic disadvantages

Various studies have shown that use of non-parental child care is positively associated with household income in Canada. Bushnik (2006) showed that, from 1994/1995 to 2002/2003, the higher the household income, the more likely the child was in non-parental child care. Sinha (2014) found that, in 2011, 34% of parents with an annual income below $40,000 used non-parental child care for their children aged 4 and younger, compared with 65% of parents with an annual income of at least $100,000. Most recently, using the 2016 Census of Population, Guèvremont (2019) showed that families with higher income were more likely to report paying for child care in order to work. For instance, 21% of low-income familiesNote reported paying for child care in order to work, compared with 39% of moderate-income families, 56% of middle-income families and 66% of high-income families.

The positive relationship between child care use and household income has also been observed in Quebec (Guèvremont 2019; Kohen et al. 2008), where licensed child care has been provided to some families at a low price since 1997. Kohen et al. (2008) demonstrated that, even after the 1997 child care program reform, Quebec saw greater increases in the use of licensed child care for both low-income families and high-income families, compared with the rest of Canada, but the income-based gaps in child care use were persistent.

The positive association between family income and participation in child care has also been observed in many other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. As indicated by the OECD (2016), for children younger than 3 years of age, participation rates in formal ELCC increased with family income and with maternal education in most OECD countries. However, in many OECD countries, particularly countries where the ELCC services are publicly operated or directly subsidized, the gaps in child care use between family income levels largely shrank or disappeared once maternal employment was taken into account.

In addition to family income, non-parental child care use has also been associated with family structure and parents’ work status (Bushnik 2006). In 2011, the lowest rates of child care use among children aged 4 and younger were for children in two-parent families where only one parent worked for pay (42%), whereas 58% of lone-parent families where the parent worked for pay used non-parental child care (Sinha 2014). The highest rates of child care use were among two-parent families where both parents worked for pay (71%). Overall, lone-parent families and families where both parents worked for pay or studied were more likely to rely on non-parental child care than two-parent families where one parent worked for pay or studied (Bushnik 2006). This reflects the strong association between parental employment and child care decisions (Morrissey 2008).

Types of child care arrangements among children living in families with potential socioeconomic disadvantages

Beyond the use of non-parental child care, several Canadian studies have examined the relationship between the types of child care arrangements and household income (Bushnik 2006; Cleveland et al. 2008; Sinha 2014). For example, parents with a household income below $40,000 were most likely to use a daycare centre over any other type of child care arrangement (Sinha 2014). Home daycare was the most common child care arrangement for parents with a household income between $40,000 and $100,000, while daycare centres and private arrangements were the leading choices for parents with a household income above $100,000. In terms of licensed care, Cleveland et al. (2008) suggested that parents in the lowest income quintile were equally as likely to use types of care that were licensed (which may be more expensive) than those with middle income. This may reflect the greater availability of child care subsidies for low-income families.

Types of child care arrangements also vary by family structure. Among children attending child care, children in lone-parent households have been shown to be much more likely than children in two-parent households to be in a daycare centre (40% vs. 28%; Bushnik 2006). This may reflect the absence of a second parent who could care for the child and the fact that lone-parent households, on average, have lower household income than two-parent households and therefore are more likely to be eligible for daycare centre subsidies.Note Similar findings were observed by Cleveland et al. (2008) and Cleveland and Forer (2010) using more recent data.

Child care hours among children living in families with potential socioeconomic disadvantages

Finally, the number of hours spent in non-parental child care is associated with family structure and parents’ working status. According to Bushnik (2006), children with a lone parent who worked or studied spent 4 additional hours per week in their main care arrangement compared with children with two parents who worked or studied, and 10 additional hours per week compared with children with two parents where one parent worked or studied. This may be because children in lone-parent households were much more likely than children in two-parent households to be in a daycare centre, and that children whose main care arrangement was a daycare centre spent more time there per week (Bushnik 2006). These findings are consistent with those of Cleveland and Forer (2010), which showed that lone-mother families were more likely than all familiesNote to use considerable amounts (more than 30 hours) of child care per week.

In summary, the existing Canadian evidence has shown associations between patterns of child care use and family socioeconomic characteristics. However, more recent information on child care use and types of care is necessary given the changing landscape in child care (e.g., the 2017 Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework). Furthermore, there is little information available to describe the reasons why parents are or are not using care and the difficulties and consequences experienced by parents in finding child care. Therefore, the purpose of the current study is to use data from the 2019 Survey on Early Learning and Child Care Arrangements (SELCCA) to explore child care use patterns among families with potential socioeconomic disadvantages in Canada.

Data and methods

Data source and definitions

The SELCCA was designed to assess non-parental child care use, parent and child characteristics, and characteristics of care of children younger than 6 across Canada. The survey was delivered through an electronic questionnaire or through computer-assisted telephone interviewing in both official languages from mid-January 2019 until mid-February 2019, with randomly sampled people knowledgeable about the child care arrangements (mainly a parent) for a child who lived in the same household in all provinces and territories. Participation was voluntary.

The target population was children aged 0 to 5, but the information was obtained from a parent, guardian or person who was knowledgeable about the child’s child care arrangements (or lack thereof). The respondent was female in 91% of cases. Children living in institutions or on reserves were excluded from the target population. The response rate was 55% in the provinces and 40% in the territories, yielding a sample size of 7,548 children. The final SELCCA sample represented approximately 1.3 million children across Canada.

Families with potential socioeconomic disadvantages: This study focuses on three types of families with potential socioeconomic disadvantages: low-income families, families with low-educated parents and lone-parent families. Family income information was taken from the linked T1 Family File. Following previous studies (Bushnik 2006; Guèvremont  2019), families with income below the after-tax low-income measure cutoff were considered as low-income families. Parents and guardians were asked about their highest education level completed, which was grouped into three categories: a high school diploma or equivalent or less, more than high school but less than a university degree, and a bachelor’s degree or higher.Note A family was considered as a two-parent family if, in the linked T1 Family File, a family record number was available for both the recipient of the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) and their spouse. If the family record number was available only for the CCB recipient or for their spouse, the family was considered as a lone-parent family.

Types of child care: Child care use was determined by asking parents to report one or more types of child care arrangements they had usually used in the past three months from a list of seven possible responses: daycare centre, preschool or centre de la petite enfance; care by a relative other than a parent; care by a non-relative in the child’s home; family child care home; before or after school program; other child care arrangement; or that they do not use child care. When parents reported multiple types of care, a subsequent question asked which child care arrangement the parent or guardian considered to be the main one. Parents and guardians were also asked whether their main child care arrangement was licensed.Note

Time in care: For the current study, two elements of time spent in care were explored: the number of hours per week and the use of child care in the evenings and on the weekends. Parents and guardians were asked, “In the past three months, how many hours per week did your child usually spend in child care arrangements?” In addition, for each type of care arrangement, parents and guardians reported whether the child attended in the evening, on the weekends, both evenings and weekends, or neither evenings nor weekends. A dichotomous summary variable was created to identify whether the child attended any arrangement in the evening or on the weekends.

Difficulties finding care: Whether or not parents and guardians had difficulty finding care and the reasons for and consequences of those difficulties were also of interest. Those respondents who were using child care indicated whether or not they had experienced any difficulties finding child care. Those who had experienced difficulties were asked to indicate whether those difficulties related to finding the following: care that was available in their community, affordable child care, care that fit their work or study schedule, the quality of care they desire, licensed care, a qualified care provider, care that could accommodate more than one child, care that meets their child’s special needs, or other difficulties.

Consequences of difficulties in finding child care: Respondents who reported using child care and having difficulties finding a child care arrangement were asked to indicate the consequences based on the following options: postponing their return to work; deciding to work at home; working fewer hours than they would have; using multiple or temporary arrangements; splitting care with a spouse, partner or relative; postponing or discontinuing schooling or training; changing their work schedule; other; and none of the above.

Reasons for not using child care: Parents and guardians who were not using child care were asked to indicate the main reasons, which were grouped into the following categories: unemployed; maternity, paternity or parental leave; one of the parents has decided to stay home with the child; shortage of places or waiting list; prefer to adjust work or study schedules to accommodate care needs; the cost of child care is too high; the child is in kindergarten; and other reasons.Note

Analytical strategy

Descriptive analyses were performed to describe rates of participation in child care among Canadian families and characteristics of child care use. Three types of low-socioeconomic-status (SES) families were of interest: low-income families, families with parents with a high school diploma or less education, and lone-parent families. Other sociodemographic variables included child’s age group (younger than 1; 1 to 3; 4 to 5), parental working status (working, looking for work or at school; parental leave or at home or volunteering; unable to work; other), whether the child was from an immigrant family, whether the child had an Indigenous identity, whether the child lived in rural area, and the province where the child lived.Note Means and proportions are reported, as appropriate. Ordinary least squares regressions were used to examine the relationship between the patterns of using child care (use of care, licensed care and hours in care) and low SES, after controlling for other sociodemographic characteristics that might affect the patterns of using child care. Survey sampling weights were applied to render the analyses representative of Canadian children aged 0 to 5 living in the provinces or territories. Bootstrap weights were also applied when testing for significant differences (p < 0.05) to account for the complex survey design.

Results

Table 1 shows non-parental child care use by family characteristics. It shows that 45% of children from low-income families participated in child care, which was significantly lower than 64% of those from families not in low income. Use of child care was also significantly lower among parents with a high school diploma or less education (47%), compared with parents with more than high school but less than a university degree (62%) and those with a bachelor’s degree or higher education (65%). However, there was no difference in child care use between lone-parent and two-parent families (around 61%). For all three types of families with potential socioeconomic disadvantages, child care participation rates were higher in Quebec, where licensed child care may be provided at a lower price compared with the rest of Canada (Appendix Table A.1). However, the gaps in child care use between family income and parental education levels were found in both Quebec and the rest of Canada.


Table 1
Use of non-parental child care arrangements by family low-income status, parental education level and family structure
Table summary
This table displays the results of Use of non-parental child care arrangements by family low-income status Number, Percentage and 95% confidence limits, calculated using lower limit (%) and upper limit (%) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Number Percentage 95% confidence limits
lower limit (%) upper limit (%)
Total 1,383,204 59.9 58.3 61.4
Families not in low income (reference group) 1,197,070 64.2 62.4 65.9
Families in low income 150,030 44.9Note * 40.2 49.6
High school diploma or equivalent or less (reference group) 232,130 46.9 43.3 50.6
More than high school but less than a university degree 489,660 61.7Note * 58.9 64.5
Bachelor's degree or higher 656,599 64.6Note * 62.2 67.0
Lone-parent families 232,300 61.4 57.1 65.6
Two-parent families (reference group) 1,114,800 61.2 59.4 63.0

Use of licensed child care as the main child care arrangement also increased with family income and parental education levels. Table 2 shows that 32% of low-income families reported using licensed child care as the main child care arrangement, compared with 46% of families not in low income. Furthermore, 31% of parents with a high school diploma or less education reported using licensed child care as the main child care arrangement, compared with 44% of parents with more than high school but less than a university degree and 47% of parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher education. The income- and education-based gaps in use of licensed child care were observed in both Quebec and the rest of Canada (Appendix Table A.2).


Table 2
Use of parent-reported licensed child care as the main child care arrangement among all children by family low-income status, parental education level and family structure
Table summary
This table displays the results of Use of parent-reported licensed child care as the main child care arrangement among all children by family low-income status Number, Percentage and 95% confidence limits, calculated using lower limit (%) and upper limit (%) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Number Percentage 95% confidence limits
lower limit (%) upper limit (%)
Total 950,542 42.4 40.9 43.9
Families not in low income (reference group) 830,490 45.8 44.0 47.5
Families in low income 103,204 32.1Note * 28.0 36.5
High school diploma or equivalent or less (reference group) 145,231 30.5 27.2 34.0
More than high school but less than a university degree 339,267 43.9Note * 41.1 46.7
Bachelor's degree or higher 464,126 47.0Note * 44.5 49.4
Lone-parent families 158,340 43.0 38.8 47.4
Two-parent families (reference group) 775,354 43.8 42.1 45.6

Compared with parents with a high school diploma or less, parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher were more likely to use a daycare centre, preschool or centre de la petite enfance (56% vs. 48%; see Table 3); before or after school program (11% vs. 6%); and care by a non-relative in the child’s home (7% vs. 3%). They were less likely to use other child care arrangements (2% vs. 5%). In contrast, type of child care arrangement generally did not vary by family low-income status or family structure, with a few exceptions. Parents in low income were less likely to use a family child care home compared with parents not in low income (15% vs. 21%, not shown). Compared with two-parent families, lone-parent families were less likely to use a family child care home (17% vs. 21%), but more likely to use other child care arrangements (5% vs. 3%, not shown).


Table 3
Among those using care, type of early learning and child care arrangement by parental education level
Table summary
This table displays the results of Among those using care Number, Percentage and 95% confidence limits, calculated using lower limit (%) and upper limit (%) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Number Percentage 95% confidence limits
lower limit (%) upper limit (%)
Daycare centre, preschool, or centre de la petite enfance
Total 716,490 52.0 50.0 53.9
High school diploma or equivalent or less (reference group) 112,454 48.4 43.5 53.4
More than high school but less than a university degree 238,416 48.7 45.3 52.1
Bachelor's degree or higher 365,620 55.7Note * 52.8 58.5
Care by a relative other than a parent
Total 350,883 25.5 23.7 27.3
High school diploma or equivalent or less (reference group) 60,865 26.2 22.0 30.9
More than high school but less than a university degree 128,776 26.3 23.4 29.4
Bachelor's degree or higher 161,243 24.6 22.0 27.3
Care by a non-relative in the child's home
Total 68,978 5.0 4.1 6.0
High school diploma or equivalent or less (reference group) 7,831 3.4Note E: Use with caution 1.9 5.8
More than high school but less than a university degree 15,440 3.2Note E: Use with caution 2.1 4.8
Bachelor's degree or higher 45,707 7.0Note * 5.5 8.8
Family child care home
Total 280,976 20.4 18.8 22.0
High school diploma or equivalent or less (reference group) 51,627 22.2 18.3 26.7
More than high school but less than a university degree 110,334 22.5 19.9 25.4
Bachelor's degree or higher 119,015 18.1 16.0 20.4
Before or after school program
Total 128,284 9.3 8.3 10.5
High school diploma or equivalent or less (reference group) 14,127 6.1Note E: Use with caution 3.9 9.3
More than high school but less than a university degree 45,180 9.2 7.4 11.4
Bachelor's degree or higher 68,977 10.5Note * 8.9 12.4
Other child care arrangement
Total 43,372 3.1 2.5 4.0
High school diploma or equivalent or less (reference group) 12,608 5.4Note E: Use with caution 3.5 8.3
More than high school but less than a university degree 17,548 3.6Note E: Use with caution 2.4 5.3
Bachelor's degree or higher 13,216 2.0Note E: Use with caution Note * 1.3 3.0

The average number of hours per week spent in child care was similar between low-income families and families not in low income (around 30 hours per week; see Table 4). However, low-income parents were more likely to use child care in the evenings or on weekends compared with parents not in low income (24% vs. 15%, Table 5). Children of parents with a high school diploma or less education spent, on average, 28 hours per week in child care, while children of parents with more than high school education, including those with a bachelor’s degree or higher education, spent, on average, about 31 hours in child care (Table 4). The use of child care in the evenings or on weekends did not vary significantly by parental education level (Table 5). Average child care hours were slightly higher among lone-parent families (32 hours per week) compared with two-parent families (30 hours per week), but the difference between the two groups was not statistically significant. In contrast, lone-parent families were twice as likely to use child care in the evenings or on weekends compared with two-parent families (27% vs. 14%, Table 5).


Table 4
Average number of hours per week in child careTable 4 Note 1 by family low-income status, parental education level, and family structure
Table summary
This table displays the results of Average number of hours per week in child care by family low-income status Number, Mean, Standard error of mean and 95% confidence limits, calculated using lower limit and upper limit units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Number Mean Standard error of mean 95% confidence limits
lower limit
(%)
upper limit
(%)
Total 1,342,080 30.4 0.4 29.7 31.1
Families not in low income (reference group) 1,164,400 30.6 0.4 29.9 31.3
Families in low income 144,350 30.0 1.5 27.0 33.0
High school diploma or equivalent or less (reference group) 219,975 28.4 0.9 26.8 30.1
More than high school but less than a university degree 475,674 31.0Note * 0.7 29.7 32.4
Bachelor's degree or higher 644,184 30.6Note * 0.5 29.6 31.7
Lone-parent families 223,980 32.3 1.1 30.1 34.5
Two-parent families (reference group) 1,084,760 30.2 0.4 29.4 30.9

Table 5
Use of early learning and child care arrangements in the evenings or on the weekends by family low-income status, parental education level and family structure
Table summary
This table displays the results of Use of early learning and child care arrangements in the evenings or on the weekends by family low-income status Number, Percentage and 95% confidence limits, calculated using lower limit (%) and upper limit (%) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Number Percentage 95% confidence limits
lower limit (%) upper limit (%)
Total 222,045 16.5 15.0 18.1
Families not in low income (reference group) 175,970 15.1 13.4 16.8
Families in low income 34,860 23.5Note * 18.0 29.1
High school diploma or equivalent or less (reference group) 38,571 17.0 13.7 21.0
More than high school but less than a university degree 81,206 17.2 14.7 19.9
Bachelor's degree or higher 102,109 15.9 13.7 18.4
Lone-parent families 61,370 27.4Note * 22.5 32.3
Two-parent families (reference group) 149,460 13.7 12.1 15.4

In terms of difficulties finding a child care arrangement, the findings of the survey showed that more than one-third of all parents who were using child care reported having difficulties finding a child care arrangement (Table 6), although this was very similar between low-income families and non-low-income families. Parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education using care were more likely to report having difficulties finding a child care arrangement compared with parents with a high school diploma or less (40% vs. 33%). It is possible that more highly educated parents may be more selective about characteristics such as location, quality and caregiver characteristics.Note About 39% of lone-parent families reported having difficulties finding child care, compared with 35% of two-parent families, but the difference was not statistically significant. It should be noted that parents who were not using child care at all were not asked the questions about difficulties, and it is possible that the reason they were not using care related to difficulties obtaining care (see below).


Table 6
Among those using care, difficulty for parents and guardians in finding a child care arrangementTable 6 Note 1 by family low-income status, parental education level and family structure
Table summary
This table displays the results of Among those using care Number, Percentage and 95% confidence limits, calculated using lower limit (%) and upper limit (%) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Number Percentage 95% confidence limits
lower limit (%) upper limit (%)
Total 502,746 36.4 34.4 38.4
Families not in low income (reference group) 431,110 36.0 34.0 38.1
Families in low income 54,050 36.1 29.7 42.4
High school diploma or equivalent or less (reference group) 76,216 32.8 28.2 37.8
More than high school but less than a university degree 160,085 32.7 29.5 36.1
Bachelor's degree or higher 265,270 40.4Note * 37.6 43.3
Lone-parent families 91,110 39.3 34.1 44.5
Two-parent families (reference group) 394,040 35.4 33.2 37.5

Among all parents who were using care and had difficulties finding child care, the top four reported difficulties were finding child care available in their community (53%), finding affordable child care (48%), finding child care that fits their work or study schedule (38%) and finding the quality of care that they desired (37%) (Table 7). The trends in the types of difficulties were consistent and did not vary by family low-income status, parental education level or family structure.


Table 7
Among those using care, types of difficulties for parents and guardians in finding a child care arrangementTable 7 Note 1 by family low-income status
Table summary
This table displays the results of Among those using care Number, Percentage and 95% confidence limits, calculated using lower limit (%) and upper limit (%) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Number Percentage 95% confidence limits
lower limit (%) upper limit (%)
Total
Affordable child care 233,500 48.1 44.7 51.5
Licensed care 131,080 27.0 24.1 30.0
Care available in their community 256,260 52.8 49.4 56.3
Qualified care provider 131,700 27.1 24.1 30.2
The quality of care they desire 181,680 37.4 34.2 40.7
Care that meets their child's special needs 18,400 3.8Note E: Use with caution 2.6 5.0
Care that fits their work or study schedule 185,930 38.3 35.0 41.7
Care that could accommodate more than one child in their family 79,010 16.3 13.6 19.0
Other 96,140 19.8 16.9 22.7
Families not in low -income
Affordable child care 206,630 47.9 44.3 51.5
Licensed care 116,430 27.0 23.9 30.1
Care available in their community 232,270 53.9 50.2 57.6
Qualified care provider 117,730 27.3 24.0 30.6
The quality of care they desire 165,460 38.4 34.9 41.8
Care that meets their child's special needs 17,490 4.1Note E: Use with caution 2.7 5.4
Care that fits their work or study schedule 166,570 38.6 35.1 42.2
Care that could accommodate more than one child in their family 73,890 17.1 14.2 20.1
Other 86,910 20.2 17.0 23.3
Families in low income
Affordable child care 26,870 49.7 38.8 60.6
Licensed care 14,650 27.1Note E: Use with caution 17.6 36.6
Care available in their community 23,990 44.4 33.5 55.2
Qualified care provider 13,970 25.9Note E: Use with caution 16.3 35.4
The quality of care they desire 16,220 30.0Note E: Use with caution 20.2 39.8
Care that meets their child's special needs Note x: suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act Note x: suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act Note x: suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act Note x: suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act
Care that fits their work or study schedule 19,360 35.8 25.9 45.7
Care that could accommodate more than one child in their family Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published
Other 9,230 17.1Note E: Use with caution 9.6 24.5

As shown in Table 8, the top three reported consequences of having difficulties finding child care were requirements to change their work schedule (41%), use of multiple or temporary care arrangements (36%) and working fewer hours (34%). These consequences differed by family low-income status. Compared with parents not in low income, low-income parents were more likely to postpone or discontinue schooling or training (33% vs. 8%) and were more likely to postpone their return to work (38% vs. 26%).

The consequences of having difficulties were mostly similar between lone-parent and two-parent families, except that lone-parent families who experienced difficulties were significantly more likely to postpone return to work (37% vs. 25%) and postpone or discontinue schooling or training (20% vs. 8%), and less likely to use multiple or temporary arrangements (28% vs 37%) compared with two-parent families.


Table 8
Among those using care who reported difficulties, consequences of having encountered difficulties for parents in finding a child care arrangement, by family low-income status
Table summary
This table displays the results of Among those using care who reported difficulties Number, Percentage and 95% confidence limits, calculated using lower limit (%) and upper limit (%) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Number Percentage 95% confidence limits
lower limit (%) upper limit (%)
Total
Postponing their return to work 130,610 27.2 24.2 30.4
Deciding to work at home 49,820 10.4 8.4 12.7
Working fewer hours than they would have 162,320 33.8 30.7 37.1
Using multiple or temporary arrangements 170,780 35.6 32.4 38.9
Splitting care with spouse, partner or relative 94,800 19.7 17 22.8
Postponing or discontinuing schooling or training 50,280 10.5 8.4 12.9
Changing their work schedule 195,460 40.7 37.4 44.1
Other 46,560 9.7 7.7 12.1
None of the above 94,780 19.7 17.2 22.6
Families not in low income (reference group)
Postponing their return to work 110,260 25.9 22.8 29.3
Deciding to work at home 41,700 9.8 7.8 12.2
Working fewer hours than they would have 145,140 34.1 30.7 37.6
Using multiple or temporary arrangements 155,490 36.5 33.1 40
Splitting care with spouse, partner or relative 82,520 19.4 16.5 22.6
Postponing or discontinuing schooling or training 32,520 7.6 5.9 9.9
Changing their work schedule 173,420 40.7 37.2 44.3
Other 42,450 10 7.9 12.6
None of the above 86,220 20.2 17.6 23.2
Families in low income
Postponing their return to work 20,350 37.7Note * 28.1 48.3
Deciding to work at home 8,120 15Note E: Use with caution 8.9 24.4
Working fewer hours than they would have 17,180 31.8 22.5 42.8
Using multiple or temporary arrangements 15,290 28.3Note E: Use with caution 19.8 38.7
Splitting care with spouse, partner or relative 12,280 22.7Note E: Use with caution 14.9 33.1
Postponing or discontinuing schooling or training 17,750 32.9Note E: Use with caution Note * 23 44.5
Changing their work schedule 22,040 40.8 30.9 51.5
Other Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published
None of the above 8,560 15.9Note E: Use with caution 9.4 25.6

Regarding reasons for not using child care at all, several notable differences were observed between low-income families and those not in low income (Table 9). For example, 28% of parents in low income were unemployed, 11% were at home on parental leave, and 11% indicated that the child was in kindergarten. . By comparison, 13% of parents not in low income were unemployed, 27% were at home on parental leave, and 18% indicated that the child was in kindergarten.


Table 9
Among those not using care, parent reasons for not using any child care arrangement, by family low-income status
Table summary
This table displays the results of Among those not using care Number, Percentage and 95% confidence limits, calculated using lower limit (%) and upper limit (%) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Number Percentage 95% confidence limits
lower limit (%) upper limit (%)
Total
Unemployed 136,750 16.1 14.0 18.4
Maternity, paternity or parental leave 201,040 23.7 21.3 26.2
Parent decided to stay home with child 377,740 44.4 41.5 47.4
Shortage of places or waiting list 57,120 6.7 5.4 8.3
Adjusting work or study schedules 83,670 9.8 8.4 11.5
The cost of child care is too high 225,120 26.5 24.0 29.1
Child is in kindergarten 139,810 16.4 14.6 18.5
Other reasonsTable 9 Note 1 168,720 19.8 17.6 22.3
Families not in low income (reference group)
Unemployed 85,530 12.8 10.8 15.2
Maternity, paternity or parental leave 180,690 27.1 24.3 30.2
Parent decided to stay home with child 286,700 43.1 39.7 46.4
Shortage of places or waiting list 41,740 6.3 4.9 8.0
Adjusting work or study schedules 68,030 10.2 8.6 12.1
The cost of child care is too high 171,270 25.7 23.0 28.7
Child is in kindergarten 117,860 17.7 15.6 20.1
Other reasonsTable 9 Note 1 123,360 18.5 16.1 21.2
Families in low income
Unemployed 51,230 27.8Note * 22.2 34.2
Maternity, paternity or parental leave 20,350 11.0Note E: Use with caution Note * 7.5 16.1
Parent decided to stay home with child 91,040 49.4 43.1 55.7
Shortage of places or waiting list 15,380 8.3Note E: Use with caution 5.7 12.0
Adjusting work or study schedules 15,640 8.5Note E: Use with caution 5.7 12.4
The cost of child care is too high 53,850 29.2 23.4 35.9
Child is in kindergarten 21,950 11.9Note E: Use with caution Note * 8.3 16.9
Other reasonsTable 9 Note 1 45,360 24.6 19.3 30.8

Table 10 presents the associations between the patterns of child care use and family SES, controlling for other sociodemographic characteristics, including child age, immigrant status and parental working status. The results suggest that low-income families were 12% less likely to use child care and 8% less likely to use licensed child care as the main child care arrangement, compared with families not in low income. Compared with parents with a high school diploma or less education, parents with more than high school education but less than a university degree were 9% more likely to use child care and 7% more likely to use licensed child care as the main child care arrangement. Parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher education were 13% more likely to use child care and use licensed child care as the main child care arrangement. In comparison with the descriptive statistics shown in Tables 1 and 2, when the other sociodemographic factors were controlled for, the gaps in the use of (licensed) child care between family income and parental education levels shrank but remained statistically significant. Compared with lone-parent families, two-parent families were 8% less likely to use child care and 6% less likely to use licensed child care as the main child care arrangement, and their children spent about four hours fewer per week in child care. Average hours per week in child care did not differ statistically significantly by family low-income status and family structure.


Table 10
Associations between the patterns of using child care and family low-income status, parental education level and family structure
Table summary
This table displays the results of Associations between the patterns of using child care and family low-income status (1)
Use of child care, (2)
Use of licensed child care as the main child care arrangement and (3)
Average number of hours per week in child care, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
(1)
Use of child care
(2)
Use of licensed child care as the main child care arrangement
(3)
Average number of hours per week in child care
Number 7,070 6,825 4,572
percent
Families not in low income (omitted) Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
Families in low income -0.12Table 10 Note  -0.08Table 10 Note  -1.4
High school diploma or equivalent or less (omitted) Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
More than high school but less than a university degree 0.09Table 10 Note  0.07Table 10 Note  1.66
Bachelor's degree or higher 0.13Table 10 Note  0.13Table 10 Note  1.84
Lone-parent families (omitted) Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
Two-parent families -0.08Table 10 Note  -0.06Table 10 Note  -3.82Table 10 Note 
Non-Indigenous identity (omitted) Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
Indigenous identity 0.01 0.02 0.03
Non-immigrant (omitted) Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
Immigrant -0.12Table 10 Note  -0.03 2.13
Children younger than 1 (omitted) Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
Children aged 1 to 3 0.22Table 10 Note  0.21Table 10 Note  4.23Table 10 Note 
Children aged 4 to 5 0.16Table 10 Note  0.2Table 10 Note  -4.57Table 10 Note 
Working, looking for work, or at school (omitted) Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
Parental leave or at home or volunteering -0.45Table 10 Note  -0.33Table 10 Note  -12.32Table 10 Note 
Unable to work -0.36Table 10 Note  -0.21Table 10 Note  -3.86
Other -0.35Table 10 Note  -0.33Table 10 Note  -2.13
Population centres (omitted) Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
Rural area -0.02 -0.04 -1.78

Discussion

This study provides comprehensive descriptive statistics on child care use based on socioeconomic characteristics of families. Several notable differences in terms of the patterns of using child care were observed between low-SES families and families not in low SES.

First, similar to previous research (Bushnik 2006; Guèvremont 2019, OECD 2016), low-income families and families with low-educated parents were less likely to use non-parental child care; they were also less likely to use licensed care as their main arrangement. Even when other sociodemographic characteristics, including child age and parental working status, were controlled for, the differences in child care use across family income and parental education levels shrank but persisted. This may be because low-income parents and parents with low education are more likely to have additional barriers to accessing child care, such as high child care costs and non-standard working schedules. Another potential explanation is that more highly educated parents value different aspects of child care compared with parents with lower educational achievement (Johansen et al. 1996). However, not using child care because parents were unemployed was more likely among low-income families; not using child care because parents were on parental leave was less likely among low income families.. The results may suggest that low-income parents do not necessarily have different desires for using non-parental care but instead are more likely to have barriers to access.

Second, use of care in the evening and on weekends varied by family income and family structure, while hours using child care varied by parental education level. Low-income parents and lone parents were more likely to use child care in the evenings or on the weekends. This may reflect the fact that low-income parents may be more likely to work non-standard hours (which include regular evening and night shifts, weekend hours, rotating shifts, and irregular or on-call hours) (Lero et al. 2019).

Third, more than one-third of parents who used child care reported having difficulties finding a child care arrangement, and the trends in the types of difficulties were generally similar between families with and without potential socioeconomic disadvantages. However, the consequences of the difficulties were associated with family SES. One notable finding is that low-income parents and lone parents were more likely to postpone or discontinue their schooling or training or their return to work because of the difficulties in finding a child care arrangement. This might be due to the nature or type of employment or because low-income parents and lone parents may have more difficulties in adjusting their working hours and schedules (Foley and Schwartz 2002) and are therefore more likely to sacrifice their return or their schooling and training opportunities.

Despite the important contribution that the findings make in terms of understanding child care use among families with potential socioeconomic disadvantages in Canada, several limitations of this study need to be mentioned. First, the gaps in child care use across family income and parental education levels were shown to withstand the controls for sociodemographic characteristics, including child’s age group and parental working status, but additional (unobserved) factors that correlate with family income and parental education and affect child care use might exist (e.g., work schedule, neighbourhood, care availability, caregiver characteristics). Second, it is difficult to collect comprehensive information regarding the quality of child care services from a parent-reported survey and thus this  important aspect of child care has not been investigated in this study. If more nuanced data on the quality of child care (e.g., staff-to-child ratio in daycare centres, caregivers’ education levels) were available, it would be of interest for future research to examine whether and how the quality of child care varies by sociodemographic characteristics.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this study examines child care use, types of child care arrangements, child care hours, reasons for not using child care and difficulties in finding child care, as well as the consequences of any difficulties, among low-income families, families with low-educated parents and lone-parent families in Canada. Child care use was positively associated with family income and parental education levels. Low-income parents and lone parents were more likely to use child care in the evenings or on the weekends. Children with more highly educated parents spent more time in non-parental care. For all types of families, finding child care available in the local community and finding affordable child care were the two most frequently reported difficulties in finding child care. Because of the difficulties in finding a child care arrangement, low-income parents and lone parents were more likely to postpone or discontinue their schooling or training or their return to work. Future research may consider exploring variation in child care quality by sociodemographic characteristics.

Appendix – Tables


Appendix Table A.1
Use of early learning and child care arrangements by family low-income status, parental education level and family structure (Quebec versus rest of Canada)
Table summary
This table displays the results of Use of early learning and child care arrangements by family low-income status Quebec, Rest of Canada, number, % and 95% confidence limits, calculated using lower limit (%) and upper limit (%) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Quebec Rest of Canada
number % 95% confidence limits number % 95% confidence limits
lower limit (%) upper limit (%) lower limit (%) upper limit (%)
Total 403,739 78.2 75.5 80.7 979,465 54.6 52.7 56.4
Families not in low income (reference group) 355,898 81.3 78.3 83.9 841,622 58.9 56.8 61.0
Families in low income 39,325 68.2Note * 57.2 77.4 110,706 40.0Note * 35.0 45.3
High school diploma or equivalent or less (reference group) 64,534 67.2 59.1 74.4 167,597 42.1 38.0 46.2
More than high school but less than a university degree 169,811 80.1Note * 75.8 83.7 319,849 55.0Note * 51.6 58.4
Bachelor's degree or higher 168,299 81.5Note * 76.9 85.4 488,299 60.3Note * 57.5 63.0
Lone-parent families 55,546 76.2 67.1 83.4 177,201 57.9 53.0 62.6
Two-parent families (reference group) 339,677 80.3 77.2 83.2 775,126 55.4 53.3 57.5

Appendix Table A.2
Use of licensed child care as the main child care arrangement among all children by family low-income status, parental education level and family structure (Quebec versus rest of Canada)
Table summary
This table displays the results of Use of licensed child care as the main child care arrangement among all children by family low-income status Quebec, Rest of Canada, number, % and 95% confidence limits, calculated using lower limit (%) and upper limit (%) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Quebec Rest of Canada
number % 95% confidence limits number % 95% confidence limits
lower limit (%) upper limit (%) lower limit (%) upper limit (%)
Total 347,079 70.2 67.3 73.0 603,464 34.5 32.8 36.3
Families not in low income (reference group) 311,243 73.8 70.6 76.7 519,247 37.3 35.3 39.3
Families in low income 32,214 61.6Note * 50.2 71.8 70,989 26.3Note * 22.1 31.0
High school diploma or equivalent or less (reference group) 51,159 56.7 48.3 64.7 94,073 24.4 20.9 28.1
More than high school but less than a university degree 149,808 72.3Note * 67.6 76.4 189,459 33.5Note * 30.4 36.8
Bachelor's degree or higher 145,017 74.3Note * 69.5 78.6 319,109 40.2Note * 37.5 43.0
Lone-parent families 46,354 67.8 58.3 76.1 111,986 37.4 32.8 42.2
Two-parent families (reference group) 297,104 73.2 69.8 76.3 478,250 35.1 33.1 37.2

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