Theme Panel: Measuring Parent Preferences and Decision Making around Schooling and Child Care

Measuring Parent Preferences and Decision Making around Schooling and Child Care

Co-sponsored by Division 59: Education Politics and Policy
Full Paper Panel

(Chair) James Farney, University of Regina; (Discussant) Jack Lucas, University of Calgary

Session Description:
This panel addresses the 2022 conference theme that focuses on training the next generation of leaders. The panel brings together papers that use a variety of methods to more accurately probe parent decision making around early childhood education and care and schooling. The richness of the methods in this panel – including conjoint analysis, public opinion surveys, and sentiment analysis combined with regression discontinuity – will work to inform political scientists and policymakers in education. All the papers address how inequality affects parental decision making, with two of the papers examining how those inequalities in decision making have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Competitive Parenting and Private Education Trends in Canada
Linda A. White, University of Toronto; James Farney, University of Regina; Sophie Borwein, Simon Fraser University

In this paper, we examine how patterns of income and income inequality influence Canadian parents’ stated and revealed preferences for primary and secondary private education for their children. Building on research on expenditure cascades (Levine, Frank, and Dijk 2010) and positional goods (Hirsch 1976), we hypothesize that both high- and more middle-income parents’ demand for private education will increase in the context of higher income inequality, as parents feel pressure to compete to secure relative advantage for their children, even though only top-earners have realized income gains from inequality. We examine our hypotheses in the context of the Canadian provinces, which we argue presents a hard test case for theories of competitive parenting and spending on private education, because Canada’s relatively un-stratified higher education system likely reduces the pressures parents feel to secure advantage for their children through the attainment of private education. Drawing on two sources of data—Statistics Canada’s Survey of Household Spending, and a 2019 public opinion survey of Canadian parents—we first show that higher-income parents express attitudes consistent with greater support for private education, and the economic purposes of education more broadly. Second, we show that these preferences relate to provincial levels of income inequality in Canada; despite Canada’s less stratified higher education system, in contexts of higher inequality, parents spend more on K-12 private education than at low levels of inequality, and this gap in spending becomes more pronounced as income increases, before dissipating among only the very highest income households.

Parents’ Material Conditions and Pandemic-Related School Decisions
Salar Asadolahi, University of Toronto

Parents around the world have faced tough decisions about their children’s educational plans throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing on public opinion survey data from four of Canada’s most populous provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec), this paper examines some of the factors that have affected parent choices regarding their children’s education plans from September 2020 to June 2021. Specifically, it examines the influence of parent’s material circumstances and their expectations of experiencing economic difficulty as a result of the pandemic on decision making around in-person versus remote schooling and public versus private education. It additionally examines differences in the patterns of decision making among parents in Ontario in particular compared to the three other provinces given the Ontario government’s offering of remote schooling on a voluntary basis for part of the year, and its closing of schools and mandating of remote learning for a longer period of time relative to other provinces.

Parental Stress and Child Care Preferences during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Samantha Burns, University of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education; Michal Perlman, University of Toronto

The COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread disruptions in family life, closing workplaces and sending kids home from care and school. These disruptions introduced new, or exacerbated existing, pressures on families. Extant research has highlighted the immediate impacts felt by families in terms of increased stress, declining mental health, impacts on labour force attachments, and inequalities in child learning. In this paper, we explore the determinants of stress – as it relates to reported economic stability, work-care balance, and child wellbeing – among parents of young children during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic (December 2020). Using a conjoint survey of parent preferences for ECEC, we find that these measures of parental stress impact the quasi-behavioural decisions of parents in different ways. Parents who report financial instability are more attuned to the availability of care, while those with greater stability are more attuned to the health measures (in particular, the masking policy) of ECEC environments. Parents who have less stress about the balance of work and family life, pay more attention to the type of care available – with stronger preferences for centre-based care. Meanwhile, parents who report relatively less concern about the social and emotional wellbeing of their children were more willing to choose no ECEC arrangements at all; when they made choices towards an ECEC arrangement, these parents were more attuned to the health measures of ECEC environments – favoring mandatory masking and strict sickness policies. These findings offer unique insights on Canadian parents’ decisions regarding their childcare arrangements during COVID-19 and implications for policies related to access to child care arrangements.

What Do Parents Say When They Talk about Child Care?
Adrienne Davidson, McMaster University; Ludovic Rheault, University of Toronto; Elizabeth Dhuey, University of Toronto

This paper uses a novel dataset of online Google consumer reviews of early childhood education and care (ECEC) in the United States. Using a regression discontinuity design, we compare the content of reviews along state borders in states that have different levels of oversight and regulation of ECEC settings. We rely on automated textual analysis to examine what parents mention in reviews of ECEC providers in terms of themes such as safety, risk, quality, and choice. We use text-as-data with a comprehensive dataset of state-level ECEC regulations (accounting for variables such as the presence of unlicensed care arrangements, and staff-to-child ratios) to examine whether parental discourse varies based on the breadth and depth of regulation in various childcare settings. We find that parent reviews in states with less regulatory oversight over ECEC care arrangements exhibit more anxiety in their online reviews and engage more frequently in conversations about risk relative to parents in states with more robust regulatory regimes. This provides a unique vantage point on parents’ understanding of the quality of care their children receive as well as raising concerns about the quality of services children receive under weaker oversight regimes.