For any new parent or parent-to-be, one of the most dreaded questions is, “How much does daycare cost?” It’s something we don’t think about until we have children. Yet, given the high cost of child care, we should plan for the financial impact of daycare and preschool long before we start thinking about having children.
Spoiler alert: there’s no easy answer to the question “How much does daycare cost?” Luckily, we’ve built a nifty daycare cost calculator to help parents estimate the average cost of child care in their area (scroll down below.)
There’s no easy answer because the average cost of child care varies based on your location, child’s age, and whether it’s a daycare center or home daycare. In this article, you will find the average cost of care for infants, toddlers, and four-year-old preschoolers in states across the U.S.
At the end of the article, you’ll learn about the cost of a nanny, babysitter, or Au Pair. Those can also be good options for parents, so we’ll discuss how they compare to child care centers, licensed home daycares, and preschools.
In short, the average cost of daycare in the U.S. is $9,649/year, but it can cost anywhere from $2,813/year to $23,666/year. The lowest price is for a home-based program for a 4-year-old in Mississippi, and the most expensive is infant care in a center in Washington D.C. That’s quite a broad range!
In the daycare cost calculator below, enter your zip code, age of your child, and type of care you prefer. The tool will give you an estimate of the average cost of child care near you, using CareLuLu proprietary data supplemented by Statewide average costs*. As a bonus, you will also get a list of licensed daycares and preschools near you. You can then click to learn about various child care programs and compare the cost, photos, reviews, and more!
Table 1 below shows the national average cost of child care for infant care, toddler care, and preschool for four-year-old children. Costs are split by type of program, center-based, and home-based.
In general, infant care is the most expensive, with an average of $9,321/year in a home-based daycare and $11,959/year for child care centers. Preschool programs for older children tend to be more affordable with an average cost of care for 4-year-old between $8,617/year and $9,170/year (for home-based and center-based programs, respectively.)
Since each State has a unique landscape in terms of family income, child care availability and prices, the cost of child care needs to be analyzed State by State. Tuition rates also depend a lot on the age of the child (as explained earlier, daycare prices for infants are in general higher than for toddlers or preschoolers).
The District of Columbia has the highest cost of infant care for both settings, with $23,666/year and $16,737/year for a daycare center and a home daycare, respectively. As a point of comparison, D.C.’s average infant care costs more than the most expensive public college tuition in the U.S. (which is in New Hampshire, with $16,073 per year)! The lowest cost for infant care is in Mississippi, where the average price for daycare centers is $5,307/year, while the average for a family child care program is $3,570/year.
For toddlers, the cost decreases considerably on the high-end. The most expensive State for center-based toddler care is Massachusetts, with an annual cost of $18,845 on average. For in-home daycares, Nebraska is the costliest for toddlers, with an average yearly price of $12,480. On the low-end, the least expensive States for toddlers are Kentucky (for center-based child care) and South Carolina (for home-based), where cost is $6,258/year and $4,797/year, respectively.
The average cost of care continues to decrease as children get older. For most States, this is because regulations typically require lower teacher-to-child ratios. This means that a child care business can enroll more children with one teacher or caregiver. With lower staff costs, daycares and preschools can offer lower tuition.
It’s important to note that even though staff costs are one of the major expenses for child care businesses (along with real estate), child care providers are unfortunately one of the lowest-paid professions in the U.S.
Washington D.C. once again takes the top spot when it comes to the most expensive State. For a 4-year-old in private preschool, the cost of care is on average $18,657/year in center-based programs and $14,293/year for home-based preschools. Similarly to infants, Mississippi is once again the State with the lowest cost for 4-year-olds: the average price for centers is $4,670/year, while the average for an in-home preschool is $2,813/year.
While these numbers are interesting, amounts don’t say much until we answer the question of, “How much of their income do families spend on child care?” According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommendation, child care should not represent more than 7% of a family’s household income.
Given the $9,649/year average cost of child care and the U.S. median annual household income of $60,336, parents spend on average 16.0% of their income on child care.
This number varies by age group since the cost of care decreases as children get older. For infants, parents spend 15.4% to 19.8% of their income on child care (nationwide average for home daycares and child care centers, respectively). For toddlers, parents spend a bit less, with an average of 14.5% and 16.7% of the median annual income, for home-based and center-based daycares, respectively. For 4-year-old preschoolers, families spend between 14.3% and 15.2%. Center-based programs, once again, take a more substantial chunk of the family’s budget.
The situation is much worse in some States than others. The State where infant care is the least affordable for single-parent families is D.C., where center-based infant care costs as much as 91% of the median household income (or 64.4% for in-home daycares). For married-couple families, California is the least affordable for center-based infant care (18.6% of household income), and Nebraska is the least accessible for in-home infant care (14.6% of household income). On the other hand, the State with the most affordable infant care is Mississippi, with the average cost representing 4.9% to 7.3% of the median household income for a married couple.
For 4-year-old children in preschool, Mississippi remains the most affordable State with child care costing 3.9% to 6.4% of the household income for married-couple families (14.7% to 24.4% for single-parents). The District of Columbia remains the least affordable for single-parent families, where child care costs for 4-year-old children represent 55% to 71.7% of the income. For married couples, D.C. is the least affordable for center-based care (13.1% of household income), and Nebraska is the least affordable for home-based preschools (14.6% of household income).
Given the high cost of child care centers and home daycares, some parents may consider a caregiver that will solely care for their child. Hiring a nanny, babysitter or an Au Pair can all be good options, depending on each family’s needs. When it comes to cost, though, home daycares and child care centers aren’t the most expensive options.
According to the 2017 INA Nanny Salary and Benefits Survey, the average hourly rate in the U.S. is $19.14 per hour. Assuming 40-hour weeks, a nanny costs $39,811 per year on average. Nannies are employed by the family and thus also get paid holidays, vacation and sick days, health insurance, and other benefits. A nanny may be a good financial option for families with 3 or more children, but for 1 or 2 children, group child care is certainly more affordable. Of course, there are a variety of non-financial reasons why a family may prefer a nanny.
Au Pairs can cost about $19,000 to $20,000 per year or more, depending on a few factors. Au Pairs must receive a weekly stipend from the host family that is at least $195.75 per week, though families can pay more than this legal minimum. This stipend is about $10,000 per year, to which families need to add agency fees that cost $8,000 to $9,000. A few other costs also need to be taken into consideration when thinking about an Au Pair. For instance, room and board, auto insurance if they drive your car as well as travel costs to facilitate attendance at education classes or au pair gatherings.
Babysitters typically earn a rate similar to that of nannies but are more flexible in terms of hours and provide more short-term care. Just like nannies, babysitter hourly rates vary a lot by location and experience but can be anywhere from $10-$15/hour to $25-$30/hour or more.
In addition to knowing the average cost of daycare, it’s also essential to understand where your tuition fees go. Knowing what influences the cost of child care can help you decide what’s most important to you, and what you don’t feel is essential so that you can save on child care.
The factors impacting the cost of daycare are (but not limited to) the following:
* Certain areas have limited information and are not as accurate as other (in some areas, numbers used in the calculator are Statewide averages, while in other areas the tool uses proprietary CareLuLu data).
** Numbers from Child Care Aware® of America’s 2018 report “The US and the High Cost of Child Care”. Numbers are the “Average of Program Weighted Averages” where an overall average is calculated by weighting state child care cost averages by the number of programs by type (i.e., centers, family child care homes).