Very limited rigorous research has evaluated the impact of child care workforce compensation on outcomes in the prenatal-to-3 period. The majority of the evidence base for child care compensation comes from observational studies, which should be considered carefully, as they employ study designs that are not sufficient to draw causal conclusions and often feature small sample sizes. The review below summarizes the existing knowledge from the literature, beginning with what the limited causal evidence tells us about the impact of child care workforce compensation and then summarizing outcomes from the observational studies. Further research is needed to draw a causal link between workforce compensation in the child care sector and relevant outcomes in the prenatal-to-3 period.
The research discussed here meets our standards of evidence for being methodologically strong and allowing for causal inference, unless otherwise noted. Each strong causal study reviewed has been assigned a letter, and a complete list of causal studies can be found at the end of this review, along with more details about our standards of evidence and review method. The findings from each strong causal study reviewed align with one of our eight policy goals from Table 1. The Evidence of Effectiveness table below displays the findings associated with child care workforce compensation (beneficial, null,v or detrimental) for each of the strong studies (A and B) in the causal studies reference list, as well as our conclusions about the overall impact on each studied policy goal. The assessment of the overall impact for each studied policy goal weighs the timing of publication and relative strength of each study, as well as the size and direction of all measured indicators.
Table 2: Evidence of Effectiveness for Child Care Workforce Compensation by Policy Goal
|Overall Impact on Goal
|Nurturing and Responsive Child Care in Safe Settings||Teaching Staff Retention||B||A||Mixed
Nurturing and Responsive Child Care in Safe Settings
Two strong causal studies have examined the impact of compensation for child care workers on child care outcomes, and the findings were mixed. One study evaluated the impact of center-based child care teacher wages on turnover rates and found no significant effect.A Another study, which focused on the effects of QRIS on families and children, also examined the impact of wage compensation programs, in comparison to and conjunction with QRIS. The study compared states that had implemented QRIS only, QRIS and a wage supplement program, and a wage supplement program alone, to states that had neither program.B Results showed that states with a wage supplement program alone had lower job separation and turnover rates compared to states with neither a wage supplement or QRIS in place. States with both QRIS and wage supplement programs had improved turnover rates but showed no significant impact on job separation rates when compared to states with neither program. This study also found that wage supplement programs can augment the impact of QRIS implementation on child care workforce outcomes within the state, with outcomes for states that had both policies in place significantly stronger than outcomes in states that had implemented QRIS alone.
The bulk of the current evidence base for the link between child care workforce compensation and staff retention lacks the ability to establish causal connections. The majority of often-cited observational studies on child care workforce compensation generally found either a positive link between higher wages and greater retention and workers’ intention to stay in their jobs21,16,15,17 or null effects.21,22,23 However, the findings of these studies should be interpreted with caution, as they are limited by their study designs and sample sizes. Although researchers suggest that compensation is important to the recruitment of a skilled child care workforce, current research does not explore these connections.17,15 No strong causal studies have explored the pathway from compensation to retention through job satisfaction; often-cited observational studies have suggested a positive link between wages and job satisfaction but are limited by the same methodological challenges described above.20,16,18
Limited research has explored the impacts of specific compensation-related policy levers. Existing observational evidence14,24 has suggested mixed associations between compensation and retention incentive program participation,vi and outcomes for retention were limited in geographic scope to findings from two states. In a quasi-experimental study in Missouri, participation in the retention incentive program (and receipt of a biannual cash incentive) was associated with lower teaching staff turnover rates generally, but subgroup analyses found mixed results.A
The evidence for the association between compensation and child care qualityvii comes primarily from observational, point-in-time studies, frequently limited by small sample sizes. No evidence exists on the causal effects of child care wages on quality,25 and the mechanisms by which pay affects quality remain unclear. Often-cited observational research has suggested that higher teacher compensation is associated with higher ratings on measures of classroom quality,viii and this association is generally, but not always, true for infant and toddler classrooms specifically.11,12,23 The observational evidence linking wages to teacher behaviorix beyond broad quality measures is mixed; two studies found a positive association,26,12 and one study found no significant association.23 However, the link between compensation and quality is, at best, complex and indirect,27 and the current evidence base lacks the rigor necessary to establish causal connections.
- An impact is considered statistically significant if p<0.05.
- Compensation and retention incentive programs are wage supplement/stipend programs providing semi-annual cash payments to workers. Payment amounts vary based on workers’ qualifications (e.g., educational attainment), typically require staff to remain employed in a position or in the child care field (intended to reduce turnover), and may include additional requirements (e.g., related to ongoing professional development). Payments are higher for workers with higher levels of educational attainment, which is intended to incentivize higher education.
- Child care quality is typically defined as the quality of what happens inside the child care classroom or program, generally focused on positive, nurturing interactions between teachers and children; activities children are engaged in (e.g., curriculum, activities to promote social and academic learning); and a safe, enriching physical classroom environment.
- Classroom quality is operationalized using an observed measure of quality, most frequently overall scores on the Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS) or the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS) or their relevant subscales (e.g., developmentally appropriate activities).
- Teacher behavior is typically operationalized using measures of the quality of a teacher’s interaction with children, such as measures of restrictive, responsive, and sensitive caregiving behaviors. Instruments used to measure these behaviors typically include the Arnett Caregiver Interaction Scale and Teacher Involvement Scale.