Child care subsidies and children's cognitive development: Direct effects and mediating pathways

Laura E Hawkinson, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

Child care subsidies help low-income parents pay for child care arrangements selected by the family. Prior research suggests a negative relationship between child care subsidy use and children's cognitive outcomes, but research is needed to better account for selection bias, and to test pathways through which subsidies might affect children. This study uses ECLS-B data, with multiple imputation to account for missing data. To minimize the threat of selection bias, child care subsidy recipients are compared to a highly similar group of non-recipients in child care, matched using Mahalanobis metric matching within propensity score calipers. Multiple regression is used with the matched comparison groups to test the direct relationship between child care subsidy use during preschool and children's math and reading skills at kindergarten entry. Then, structural equation modeling is used with the matched comparison groups to test mediating pathways through which child care subsidy use might affect child cognitive outcomes. Potential mediators include indicators of family economic well-being and child care type during preschool, as well as six latent variables including parent depression, parent caretaking, negative parent-child interactions, parent investments in children, child care process quality, and child care structural quality. ^ This study finds a negative association between child care subsidy use during preschool and children's math (ES=-.16) and reading (ES=-.12) skills at kindergarten entry, with a particularly robust relationship with the math outcome. There is little evidence that child care type or quality mediates this relationship, but there is a significant negative association between child care subsidy receipt and child care process quality. This study does find a significant negative association between child care subsidy receipt during preschool and family income during preschool, even among children who are closely matched on family income and many other indicators of socio-economic disadvantage at age two. This negative relationship with income fully mediates the observed negative relationship between subsidy use and children's math and reading outcomes, both directly and indirectly through increased negative interactions between parents and children. Future research is needed to determine whether the negative association between subsidy receipt and family income is causal. ^

Subject Area

Education, Policy|Education, Early Childhood|Psychology, Developmental|Sociology, Public and Social Welfare

Recommended Citation

Laura E Hawkinson, "Child care subsidies and children's cognitive development: Direct effects and mediating pathways" (January 1, 2012). Dissertations available from ProQuest. Paper AAI3509071.
http://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI3509071

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