The Impact of Child Care Subsidies on Mothers’ Education Outcomes

  • Owen N. SchochetEmail author
  • Anna D. Johnson
Original Paper


The federal child care subsidy program reduces child care costs for eligible low-income families to facilitate parental employment and educational attainment. Using national data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), this study is the first to ask whether subsidies induce an increase in maternal education level over time, and if so, whether this increase is steeper for mothers who use subsidies to increase their education when their children are younger. After matching subsidy recipients with subsidy-eligible non-recipients on a range of background variables, we assess whether mothers increase their education levels in response to entry into the subsidy program at two different points in a child’s early years: first when children are 2 years old and then when children are in preschool. Results suggest that subsidy receipt promotes mothers’ educational attainment, with the largest impacts for mothers who receive subsidies when their children are younger (2 years old vs preschool-age) and for subgroups of mothers who have low baseline levels of education (high school or below) and who are not initially enrolled in school.


Child care subsidies Maternal education Low-income 



We are grateful for feedback received on earlier versions of this manuscript from Drs. Christ Herbst, Rebecca Ryan, and William Gormley, and conference participants at the Association for Public Policy and Management (APPAM) 2017 Fall Research Conference the Society for Research in Educational Effectiveness (SREE) Spring 2018 Conference, and the 2018 National Research Conference on Early Childhood (NRCEC). None of the above bear any responsibility for the contents.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

The study does not analyze primary data collected by the authors. All procedures performed by the authors and NCES are in accordance with ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Because the study relies on nationally representative secondary data informed consent is not applicable. The authors followed all protocols and procedures in procuring and accessing the data. See


  1. Adams, G. C., Spaulding, S., & Heller, C. (2015). Bridging the gap: Exploring the intersection of workforce development and child care. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.Google Scholar
  2. Alderson, D. P., Gennetian, L. A., Dowsett, C. J., Imes, A., & Huston, A. C. (2008). Effects of employment-based programs on families by prior levels of disadvantage. Social Service Review, 82(3), 361–394. Scholar
  3. Augustine, J. M., & Negraia, D. V. (2018). Can increased educational attainment among lower-educated mothers reduce inequalities in children’s skill development? Demography, 55(1), 59–82. Scholar
  4. Becker, G. S. (1991). A Treatise on the family. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Becker, G. S. (1994). Human capital revisited. Human capital: A theoretical and empirical analysis with special reference to education (3rd ed., pp. 15–28). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  6. Berger, M. C., & Black, D. A. (1992). Child care subsidies, quality of care, and the labor supply of low-income single mothers. Review of Economics and Statistics, 74(4), 635–642. Scholar
  7. Blau, D. M. (2001). The Child care problem: An economic analysis. New York: The Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  8. Blau, D. M., & Hagy, A. P. (1998). The demand for quality in child care. Journal of Political Economy, 106(1), 104–146. Scholar
  9. Blau, D., & Tekin, E. (2007). The determinants and consequences of child care subsidies for single mothers in the USA. Journal of Population Economics, 20(4), 719–741. Scholar
  10. Bradley, R. H., Burchinal, M. R., & Casey, P. H. (2001). Early intervention: The moderating role of the home environment. Applied Developmental Science, 5(1), 2–8. Scholar
  11. Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. A. (1998). The ecology of developmental processes. In W. Damon & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Theory (5th ed., Vol. 1). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  12. Chase-Lansdale, P. L., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2014). Two-generation programs in the twenty-first century. The Future of Children, 24(1), 13–39. Scholar
  13. Chevalier, A., & Feinstein, L. (2006). Sheepskin or Prozac: The causal effect of education on mental health. IZA Discussion Paper, 2231.Google Scholar
  14. Child Care Aware of America. (2017). Parents and the high cost of child care. Arlington, VA: Child Care Aware of America. Retrieved from
  15. Cribb, V. L., Jones, L. R., Rogers, I. S., Ness, A. R., & Emmett, P. M. (2011). Is maternal education level associated with diet in 10-year-old children? Public Health Nutrition, 14(11), 2037–2048. Scholar
  16. Currie, J., & Moretti, E. (2003). Mother’s education and the intergenerational transmission of human capital: Evidence from college openings. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 118(4), 1495–1532. Scholar
  17. Davis, E. E., Carlin, C., Krafft, C., & Forry, N. D. (2018). Do child care subsidies increase employment among low-income parents? Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 39(4), 662–682. Scholar
  18. Davis-Kean, P. E. (2005). The influence of parent education and family income on child achievement: The indirect role of parental expectations and the home environment. Journal of Family Psychology, 19(2), 294–304. Scholar
  19. Duncan, G. J., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (1997). Income effects across the life span: Integration and interpretation. In G. J. Duncan & J. Brooks-Gunn (Eds.), Consequences of growing up poor (pp. 596–610). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  20. Duncan, G. J., Huston, A. C., & Weisner, T. S. (2007). Higher ground: New hope for the working poor and their children. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  21. Duncan, G. J., Magnuson, K., Kalil, A., & Ziol-Guest, K. (2012). The importance of early childhood poverty. Social Indicators Research, 108(1), 87–98.
  22. Duncan, G. J., Yeung, W. J., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Smith, J. R. (1998). How much does childhood poverty affect the life chances of children? American Sociological Review, 63(3), 406–423. Scholar
  23. Feinstein, L., Sabates, R., Anderson, T. M., Sorhaindo, A., & Hammond, C. (2006). What are the effects of education on health? In: Proceedings of the Copenhagen symposium: Measuring the effects of education on health and civic engagement (pp. 171–354). Paris, France.Google Scholar
  24. Felmlee, D. H. (1988). Returning to school and women’s occupational attainment. Sociology of Education, 61(1), 29–41. Scholar
  25. Forry, N. D. (2009). The impact of child care subsidies on low-income single parents: An examination of child care expenditures and family finances. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 30(1), 43–54. Scholar
  26. Foster, E. M. (2002). How economists think about family resources and child development. Child Development, 73(6), 1904–1914. Scholar
  27. Friedlander, D., & Burtless, G. (1996). Five years after: The long-term effects of welfare-to-work programs. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  28. Gage, T. B., Fang, F., O’Neill, E., & Dirienzo, G. (2013). Maternal education, birth weight, and infant mortality in the United States. Demography, 50(2), 615–635. Scholar
  29. Gault, B., Noll, E., & Reichlin, L. (2017). The Family-friendly campus imperative: Supporting success among community college students with children. Washington, DC: Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT).Google Scholar
  30. Gennetian, L. A., Magnuson, K., & Morris, P. A. (2008). From statistical associations to causation: What developmentalists can learn from instrumental variables techniques coupled with experimental data. Developmental Psychology, 44(2), 381–394. Scholar
  31. Gormley, W. T., Phillips, D., & Anderson, S. (2017). The effects of Tulsa’s pre-K program on middle school student performance. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 37(1), 63–87. Scholar
  32. Gueron, J. M., & Pauly, E. (1991). From welfare to work. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  33. Guryan, J., Hurst, E., & Kearney, M. (2008). Parental education and parental time with children. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 22(3), 23–46. Scholar
  34. Ha, Y., Joshi, P., Hardy, E., & Giapponi, K. (2014). The impact of eligibility reassessment process on the stability of child care subsidy receipt and child care arrangement. Paper presented at the Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management Conference, Albuquerque, NM.Google Scholar
  35. Hamilton, G., Freedman, S., Genetian, L., Michalopoulos, C., Walter, J., Adams-Ciardullo, D., Mcgroder, S., Zaslow, M., … & Ricchetti, B. (2001). How effective are different welfare-to-work approaches? Five-year adult and child impacts for eleven programs. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation.Google Scholar
  36. Han, W., & Waldfogel, J. (2001). Child care costs and women’s employment: A comparison of single and married mothers with pre-school-aged children. Social Science Quarterly, 82(3), 552–568. Scholar
  37. Harder, V. S., Stuart, E. A., & Anthony, J. C. (2010). Propensity score techniques and the assessment of measured covariate balance to test causal associations in psychological research. Psychological Methods, 15(3), 234–249. Scholar
  38. Harding, J. F. (2015). Increases in maternal education and low-income children’s cognitive and behavioral outcomes. Developmental Psychology, 51(5), 583–599. Scholar
  39. Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.Google Scholar
  40. Henly, J. R., Kim, J., Sandstrom, H., Pilarz, A. R., & Claessens, A. (2017). What explains short spells on child-care subsidies? Social Service Review, 91(3), 488–533. Scholar
  41. Henly, J. R., Sandstrom, H., Claessens, A., Pilarz, A. R., Gelatt, J., Kim, J., et al. (2015). Determinants of subsidy stability and child care continuity. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.Google Scholar
  42. Herbst, C. M. (2010). The labor supply effects of child care costs and wages in the presence of subsidies and the earned income tax credit. Review of Economics of the Household, 8(2), 199–230. Scholar
  43. Herbst, C. M. (2013). Universal child care, maternal employment, and children’s long-run outcomes: Evidence from the U.S. Lanham Act of 1940 (No. 7846). Retrieved from
  44. Herbst, C. M., & Tekin, E. (2011). Do child care subsidies influence single mothers’ decision to invest in human capital? Economics of Education Review, 30(5), 901–912. Scholar
  45. Hirano, K., Imbens, G. W., & Ridder, G. (2003). Efficient estimation of average treatment effects using the estimated propensity score. Econometrica, 71(4), 1161–1189. Scholar
  46. Hoff-Ginsberg, E., & Tardif, T. (1995). Socioeconomic status and parenting. In M. Bornstein (Ed.), Handbook of parenting (Vol. 4, pp. 161–187). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  47. Jencks, C., Bartlett, S., Corcoran, M., Crouse, J., Eaglesfield, D., Jackson, G., et al. (1979). Who gets ahead. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  48. Johnson, A. D., & Herbst, C. M. (2013). Can we trust parental reports of child care subsidy receipt? Children and Youth Services Review, 35(6), 984–993. Scholar
  49. Johnson, A. D., Martin, A., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2011). Who uses child care subsidies? Comparing recipients to eligible non-recipients on family background characteristics and child care preferences. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(7), 1072–1083. Scholar
  50. Johnson, A. D., Martin, A., & Ryan, R. M. (2014). Child-care subsidies and child-care choices over time. Child Development, 85(5), 1843–1851. Scholar
  51. Johnson, A. D., Ryan, R. M., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2012). Child-care subsidies: Do they impact the quality of care children experience? Child Development, 83(4), 1444–1461. Scholar
  52. Kalil, A., Ryan, R., & Corey, M. (2012). Diverging destinies: Maternal education and the developmental gradient in time with children. Demography, 49(4), 1361–1383. Scholar
  53. Karoly, L. A., & Burtless, G. (1995). Demographic change, rising earnings inequality, and the distribution of personal well-being, 1959–1989. Demography, 32(3), 379–405. Scholar
  54. Kessler, R. C., Andrews, G., Mroczek, D., Ustun, B., & Wittchen, H. U. (1998). The World Health Organization Composite International Diagnostic Interview Short-Form (CIDI-SF). International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 7(4), 171–185. Scholar
  55. Klebanov, P. K., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Duncan, G. J. (1994). Does neighborhood and family poverty affect mothers’ parenting, mental health, and social support? Journal of Marriage and the Family, 56, 441–455. Scholar
  56. Kruvelis, M., Reichlin Cruse, L., & Gault, B. (2017). Single mothers in college: Growing enrollment, financial challenges, and the benefits of attainment. Washington, DC: Institute for Women’s Policy Research.Google Scholar
  57. Leadbeater, B. J. (1996). School outcomes for minority-group adolescent mothers at 28 to 36 months postpartum: a longitudinal follow-up. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 6(4), 629–648.Google Scholar
  58. Lleras-Muney, A. (2005). The relationship between education and adult mortality in the United States. The Review of Economic Studies, 72(1), 189–221. Scholar
  59. Ma, J., Pender, M., & Welch, M. (2016). Education pays, 2016: The benefits of higher education for individuals and society (Trends in Higher Education Series). College Board Advocacy & Policy Center.Google Scholar
  60. Magnuson, K. (2003). The effect of increases in welfare mothers’ education on their young children’s academic and behavioral outcomes. University of Wisconsin, Institute for Research on Poverty, Discussion Paper no. 1274–03.Google Scholar
  61. Magnuson, K. (2007). Maternal education and children’s academic achievement during middle childhood. Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1497–1512. Scholar
  62. Magnuson, K., Sexton, H. R., Davis-Kean, P. E., & Huston, A. C. (2009). Increases in maternal education and young children’s language skills. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 55, 319–350.
  63. McLanahan, S. (2004). Diverging destinies: How children are faring under the second demographic transition. Demography, 41(4), 607–627. Scholar
  64. Meyers, M., Heintze, T., & Wolf, D. (2002). Child care subsidies and the employment of welfare recipients. Demography, 39, 165–179. Scholar
  65. Minton, S., Blatt, L., Tran, V., Stevens, K., & Giannarelli, L. (2017). The CCDF policies database book of tables: Key cross-state variations in CCDF policies as of October 1, 2016. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.Google Scholar
  66. Moore, Q., & Schmidt, L. (2007). Do maternal investments in human capital affect children’s cognitive development? Unpublished manuscript, Williams College, Department of Economics.Google Scholar
  67. Morrissey, T. W. (2017). Child care and parent labor force participation: A review of the research literature. Review of Economics of the Household, 15(1), 1–24. Scholar
  68. Murnane, R. J., Willett, J. B., & Levy, F. (1995). The growing importance of cognitive skills in wage determination (No. w5076). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.Google Scholar
  69. Najarian, M., Snow, K., Lennon, J., Kinsey, S., & Mulligan, G. (2010). Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), preschool-kindergarten 2007 psychometric report. Washington, DC: US Dept of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Institute for Education Sciences.Google Scholar
  70. Oreopoulos, P., & Salvanes, K. G. (2009). How large are returns to schooling? Hint: Money isn’t everything (No. w15339). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.Google Scholar
  71. Prickett, K. C., & Augustine, J. M. (2016). Maternal education and investments in children’s health. Journal of Marriage and Family, 78(1), 7–25. Scholar
  72. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1(3), 385–401. Scholar
  73. Reardon, S. F. (2011). The widening academic achievement gap between rich and poor: New evidence and possible explanations. In G. J. Duncan & R. J. Murnane (Eds.), Whither opportunity? Rising inequality, schools, and children’s life chances (pp. 91–115). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  74. Rogers, I., & Emmett, P. (2003). The effect of maternal smoking status, educational level and age on food and nutrient intakes in preschool children: Results from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 57(7), 854–864. Scholar
  75. Rosenbaum, P. R., & Rubin, D. B. (1983). The central role of the propensity score in observational studies for causal effects. Biometrika, 70(1), 41–55. Scholar
  76. Rosenbaum, P. R., & Rubin, D. B. (1984). Reducing bias in observational studies using subclassification on the propensity score. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 79(387), 516–524. Scholar
  77. Rubin, D. B. (1978). Bayesian inference for causal effects: The role of randomization. The Annals of Statistics, 6(1), 34–58.
  78. Sabol, T. J., & Chase-Lansdale, P. L. (2015). The influence of low-income children’s participation in Head Start on their parents’ education and employment. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 34(1), 136–161. Scholar
  79. Sastry, N., & Pebley, A. (2012). Family and neighborhood sources of socioeconomic inequality in children’s achievement. Demography, 47, 777–800. Scholar
  80. Schochet, O. & Johnson, A. D. (2018). Associations between low-income mothers’ educational attainment and children’s early cognitive, socio-emotional, and health outcomes. Paper presented at the Association for Public Policy and Management Fall Research Conference, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  81. Schulman, K., & Blank, H. (2017). Persistent gaps: State child care assistance policies. Washington, DC: National Women’s Law Center.Google Scholar
  82. Sewell, W. H., Hauser, R. M., & Wolf, W. C. (1980). Sex, schooling, and occupational status. American Journal of Sociology, 86(3), 551–583. Scholar
  83. Small, M. L. (2009). Unanticipated gains: Origins of network inequality in everyday life. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  84. Sommer, T. E., Chase-Lansdale, P. L., Brooks-Gunn, J., Gardner, M., Rauner, D. M., & Freel, K. (2012). Early childhood education centers and mothers’ postsecondary attainment: A new conceptual framework for a dual-generation education intervention. Teachers College Record, 114(10), 1–40.Google Scholar
  85. Spasojevic, J. (2003). Effects of education on adult health in Sweden: Results from a natural experiment (Ph.D. dissertation). New York: City University of New York Graduate Center.Google Scholar
  86. Stuart, E. A. (2010). Matching methods for causal inference: A review and a look forward. Statistical Science: A Review Journal of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, 25(1), 1–21. Scholar
  87. Tekin, E. (2005). Child care subsidy receipt, employment, and child care choices of single mothers. Economics Letters, 89, 1–6. Scholar
  88. Tekin, E. (2014). Childcare subsidy policy: What it can and cannot accomplish. IZA World of Labor.Google Scholar
  89. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Child Care. (2016a). FY 2015 Preliminary Data Table 1: Average monthly adjusted number of families and children served. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.Google Scholar
  90. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Child Care. (2016b). FY 2015 Preliminary Data Table 10: Reasons for receiving care, average monthly percentage of families. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.Google Scholar
  91. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Child Care. (2017). Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) Fiscal year 2015 state spending from all appropriation years. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.Google Scholar
  92. Vereecken, C. A., Keukelier, E., & Maes, L. (2004). Influence of mother’s educational level on food parenting practices and food habits of young children. Appetite, 43(1), 93–103. Scholar
  93. Wachs, T. D., Creed-Kanashiro, H., Cueto, S., & Jacoby, E. (2005). Maternal education and intelligence predict offspring diet and nutritional status. The Journal of Nutrition, 135(9), 2179–2186. Scholar
  94. Waldfogel, J. (2006). What children need. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  95. Way, N., & Leadbeater, B. J. (1999). Pathways toward educational achievement among African American and Puerto Rican adolescent mothers: Reexamining the role of social support from families. Development and Psychopathology, 11(2), 349–364. Scholar
  96. Yoshikawa, H., Aber, J. L., & Beardslee, W. R. (2012). The effects of poverty on the mental, emotional, and behavioral health of children and youth: implications for prevention. American Psychologist, 67(4), 272. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyGeorgetown UniversityWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations