Who Gets an Early Education? Family Income and the Enrollment of Three- to Five-Year-Olds from 1968 to 2000

Publication Date:
Jan 2005
Published In:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

Our analysis shows a strong link between family income and early education enrollment for three- and four-year-olds, especially when we compare the bottom two and the top two income groups. These differences remain even after controlling for a large variety of factors, including race/ethnicity, maternal employment, family structure, and parental education. Inequality in early education by income group varies by age of child: it is most pronounced for three-year-olds, who have been the least likely to benefit from public early childhood education programs; it has diminished in the past decade for four-year-olds, who have been increasingly likely to have access to public prekindergarten programs; and it has all but disappeared for the five-year-olds, who now largely attend public kindergarten. This pattern suggests a potentially important role for public policy in closing the gap in early education between children of different income groups.


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