Data previously available from Research Connections are now available from the Child & Family Data Archive. Child care and early education research, publications and other resources remain on Research Connections.

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Administrative Records

Administrative records are an important source of information for social science research. For many years, demographers have used information from birth and death certificates to analyze various public health trends. Today, administrative data is becoming increasingly common in research about child care and early education policy. These data often are a relatively cost-effective way to learn more about all of the individuals and families using a particular public service, but they do have some important limitations.

Advantages of Administrative Data

Limitations of Administrative Data

Administrative data are collected to manage services and comply with government reporting regulations. Because the original purpose of the data is not research, this presents several challenges.

Researchers interested in using administrative data for the purpose of research should expect to invest considerable time learning about the details of the administrative data system, the specific data elements being used, the data entry process and standards, and changes in the data system and data definitions over time. It also takes time to transform administrative data into research datasets that can be used in statistical analyses.

Obtaining and Learning About Administrative Data

Important issues usually confront researchers who have decided to use administrative data records in their research. Among the most important of these issues are:


Frequently with administrative data, no sampling is done since information must be collected on the entire population of recipients for administrative purposes. Sometimes, in order to insure the protection of subject confidentiality a subsample from the full population is selected. Studies that combine the use of survey research and administrative data records may also select only a sample of the potential population in order to minimize data collection costs.

Measurement Error

Potential measurement error in administrative data can pose a substantial challenge to analysts using these data. Causes of measurement error include:


When using administrative data, the researcher must keep in mind important ethical considerations.

The Joint Center for Poverty Research offers many recommendations on using administrative data.


The Joint Center for Poverty Research recognizes the following centers as having successfully used administrative data in their research efforts: