The distribution of private elementary school enrolments in the US has changed over the last half century. This column shows that, overall, fewer middle-class children are now enrolled in private schools. Non-Catholic religious schools play an increasing role in private school enrolments, and today serve more students whose family incomes are in the bottom half of the distribution than Catholic schools do. The increase in residential segregation by income in the US means that urban public schools and urban private schools have less socioeconomic diversity today than they had several decades ago.
We use data from multiple national surveys to describe trends in private elementary school enrollment by family income from 1968-2013. We note several important trends. First, the private school enrollment rate of middle-income families declined substantially over the last five decades, while that of high-income families remained quite stable. Second, there are notable differences in private school enrollment trends by race/ethnicity, urbanicity, and region of the country. Although racial/ethnic differences in private school enrollment are largely explained by income differences, the urban/suburban and regional differences in private school enrollment patterns are large even among families with similar incomes. Factors contributing to these patterns may include trends in income inequality, private school costs and availability, and the perceived relative quality of local schooling options.