Parental decision making about child care: Preferences and trade -offs

Katherine Kensinger Rose, Purdue University


Researchers have investigated child care choice by asking parents open-ended questions about what is important to them when making this choice, by asking them to rate how important different characteristics of child care are to them, and by asking them to rank order which attributes are more important than others. While these methods provide valuable information, they do little to shed light on what characteristics of care parents are willing to trade in exchange for others. This study attempts to fill this gap in the literature by borrowing methodology from marketing and consumer behavior research: conjoint analysis. Three hundred and fifty-five employed mothers of children under 6 years of age completed a questionnaire containing items regarding the types of care they viewed as ideal for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Additional items examined how these mothers viewed the role of women in the family, ratings and rankings of what characteristics of child care each viewed as important to their child care decisions, and hypothetical child care scenarios in which mothers identified their likelihood of choosing each. Results showed that a majority of mothers prefer parental care for their infants and toddlers, regardless of income, educational level, ethnicity or family role ideology. Family role ideology was found to be associated with preferences for type of care for toddlers, with mothers possessing traditional family role ideals preferring parental care more than mothers with egalitarian family role ideals. Warmth, experience, and education of caregivers were the most important attributes of care arrangements overall when rated. When ranked, warmth, experience, and utilization of a play based curriculum were the most important. When examined conjointly, warmth, education, and flexibility emerged as most important for the entire sample. The advantages of using conjoint analysis to study child care preferences are discussed.




Elicker, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Preschool education|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology

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