Yelp Reviews Reveal Disparities In How Rich, Poor Parents Approach Child Care

Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2018 - 12:41pm
Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2018 - 11:59am
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LAUREN GILGER: When you use Yelp, it's usually to check out reviews of a restaurant you've never been to or maybe find out how good a hair salon is. But a new study from ASU shows that more and more parents are using the platform to review child care facilities. Chris Herbst is in ASU's School of Public Affairs and he studies family policy issues and specializes in child care. In his new study, he examines how parents use Yelp to find child care for the kids. And he found some serious discrepancies in how low income versus high income families experiences them. I sat down with Herbst recently to talk more about it.

CHRIS HERBST: Well, first of all, child care generally speaking is an important issue for public policy because so many families rely on it as a work support. So the latest figures suggest that somewhere around 13 million children in the United States ages 0 to 5 regularly attend some form of child care — that amounts to about 60 percent of U.S. preschoolers. And when they participate in child care — No. 1 — they start participating early in life. And secondly, among those who do participate they are in childcare for somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 to 40 hours per week. So children use child care intensively.

GILGER: It's a big chunk of people's lives.

HERBST: It's a big chunk of people's lives. And when so many children are attending child care questions naturally arise around the cost of that care as well as quality. And we know that particularly for low income family’s child care is quite expensive. The data suggests that somewhere around 30 percent of low income families budgets are allocated to child care. We also know that in terms of quality U.S. child care quality is low to mediocre at best and in some cases is dangerous for children. And when child care is of high quality — children thrive — when child care quality is low, it is to the detriment of child development.

GILGER: So why go about it this way? You used Yelp, which I mean you think of as like restaurant reviews right. How many stars did this scatter? Where can I go for dinner tomorrow? I wonder why go about it this way and how did that work?

HERBST: Yes. So what we did was we analyzed the reviews and the ratings of all of Yelp's child care business reviews in the 40 largest cities in the country. The reason why we went to this data source is largely the richness of the data around parent evaluations on child care. We analyzed about 50,000 parent reviews of child care providers in these 40 cities as well as the overall star rating that parents provided these child care businesses. The text base reviews, as we know from providing our own restaurant reviews of businesses, offer a glimpse into the way parents think about feel about and evaluate their child care provider in a way that no other data source provides. In other words, it provides a very textured nuanced view about — parent reactions — parent evaluations of child care.

GILGER: Give us some of the main findings here. Some of the main trends that came out of this.

HERBST: So No. 1, you know as I said parents are pretty positive about their child care program. We found that overall 76 percent of parent reviews on Yelp were five-star ratings. In Phoenix 70 percent were five-star reviews. Another cut of the data that we did was we looked at parents in low income communities and high income communities. And we saw really big splits there. Generally speaking, low income parents were much more pessimistic about child care than were high income parents.

GILGER: So what do you think that says about the quality of care? Or does it say something more about kind of how these parents in different demographics approach child care?

HERBST: I think it's a little bit of both. There's a lot of reason to suspect. And indeed the research confirms that the stock of child care the supply of child care in low income communities is of much lower quality than it is in higher income communities. Those potential quality differences are actually confirmed when we dig into the actual text of the consumer reviews. And along a number of dimensions, we find that low income families just their experiences with child care are very different from the experiences of their high income counterparts.

GILGER: Did you get any data on how? Like is this in terms of the level of pay? Like just how affordable it is in these communities or the actual level of care?

HERBST: We think — based on our analysis of the reviews — we think it's a function of the kind of care that's being delivered. So let me give you a couple of examples. No. 1, we found that from a customer service standpoint — which is not something you often think about in relation of childcare — and various aspects of customer service is much poorer in low income communities than in high income communities. So for example, when low income parents contact the provider — either by phone or by email — to ask questions or to schedule a visit — it's less likely that low income families will be responded to by somebody in the child care provider than a parent making the same inquiry into high income community. Another example would be that when parents go to visit a child care center, we hear in the reviews that that low income families feel more disrespected, much more judged by program administrators than those in high income families, much less likely to get their questions answered adequately. So that was a really surprising piece of our finding. We knew that prices were going to be different the cost burden was going to be different across low income and high income communities. But the communication aspects of child care the relationships that that family’s build with their provider, which turns out to be really important to parents, was much less fruitful for low income parents than high income parents.

GILGER: Yeah. Yeah. So I wonder what you want what you think should be done with this kind of data. Like obviously this sheds some light on what might be disparities in child care — you know for kids such a young age — like do you think this is saying that kids from low income communities are just starting off with an unfair start?

HERBST: We know the evidence suggests that a child's born into a low income family starts school at kindergarten much less ready to learn. Low quality care can be detrimental to kids. And high quality care, when disadvantaged children enroll in these kinds of programs, can actually significantly reduce the school readiness gap between them and their high income counterparts. What that means is, in the context of our study, that low income families just have fewer good options — and therefore fewer opportunities to close the school readiness gap — between their kids and high income kids.

GILGER: All right. Chris Herbst is a professor in the School of Public Affairs at ASU you. Thank you so much for coming in Chris.

HERBST:  Thank you.

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