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| Daycare Decisions
June 16, 2006
The Price of Daycare
The New York Times ran a thought-provoking column on Tuesday by David Leonhardt titled "The Price of Daycare Can Be High." It ran in the business section, and it's a must read for working parents. Leonhardt writes about a bold social experiment in Quebec: in 1997 the provincial government decided that it needed more women in the workforce to fuel economic growth. To get them there it started government run daycare centers that cost only $7 a day. The centers were flooded with applications, the number of children in daycare rose almost 50% and the mothers who returned to work in droves did give the economy a lift.
Almost a decade later three economists, two Canadians and one from MIT, decided to take an in-depth look at what it meant for the children. Their dismal conclusion:
"Across almost everything we looked at," said MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, "the policy led to much worse outcomes for kids."
"Young children in Quebec are more anxious and aggressive than they were a decade ago, even though children elsewhere in Canada did not show big changes. Quebec children also learn to use a toilet, climb stairs and count to three at later ages, on average, than they once did. The effects weren't so great for parents, either. More of them reported being depressed, and they were less satisfied with their marriages — which also didn't happen in other provinces."
Before both sides of the mommy wars start sharpening their knives, there are some important caveats to keep in mind. The poor results were most pronounced for those children who were placed in day care their first year, and I would have to agree that babies are probably better off at home with a parent, nanny or relative giving them one-on-one attention. The results were murkier, though, for toddlers and preschoolers, and in fact numerous studies have found that toddlers and preschoolers in high quality daycare do better than children kept at home on many measures. The study also found that the daycare centers had very high child-to-caretaker ratios. If they had been better staffed, the outcomes may have been different.
I second Leonhardt's suggestions (full disclosure--Leonhardt once worked at BusinessWeek and is well-remembered here as smart, a good writer and a nice guy):
The big lesson from Quebec is that parents really do need more support, but they need the kind of support that allows them to choose what is best for their family. Mothers and fathers should get paid time off after a baby is born, and the money should come from a government insurance program, as it does in Canada, England and other countries. Companies need to be given incentives to create more part-time jobs that don't derail careers — and then find some up-and-coming men who want those jobs. High-quality preschool programs should be available for every low-income child and perhaps universally.
His vision must sound Nirvanalike to many, I realize, but as Leonhardt concludes: "Why don't we just decide that our children are worth it?"
If you want to check out the entire study, click here. And also read some of the reader responses to Leonhardt's column.
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Posted by: Jennifer at October 11, 2006 11:26 PM
The author of this blog makes some valid points about childcare. In order to recruit more women to the labor force, I do think it is necessary to enforce such programs that offer compensation or assistance to women who work but decide to send their children into day care centers instead of quitting their jobs or taking an extended time off to care for their children. I believe the solution lies in providing adequate, affordable childcare. I work in an after-school program in an affluent school district. The parents may be charged a lot, but I can promise that their children are getting quality care in a highly-rated program that is worth every penny. As the article mentions, I think as infants it is important for children to have one-on-one attention so that they can develop properly. The best form of care for this age does lie in the parents. It is important that they spend a considerable amount of time with their new children in their early stages of life. This is where the compensation from the government would come in. Mothers would be given time off and the assurance that their jobs would still be waiting for them after a year or so, longer than the typical maternity leave. I believe this kind of care should last for a year, so that the child can get to know their parents. It is upsetting to see a situation where the parent is constantly working and the child never really has a childhood with them. After the first year or so of life, I think daycare centers are good options for working mothers, especially ones supported by the government or the mothers' companies. As the child grows older, I still believe daycare centers are good for helping them to learn to acclimate to being around other children; this is especially necessary before the child begins school. And, as the article mentions, it has been shown that children who are in daycare centers "do better" than those who were never enrolled in such a facility. Thus, I believe mothers should be supported in deciding to stay home with their children for their first year or so of life. After that, I think placing them in daycare centers works to both party's advantages: the mothers are able to go back to work knowing that their child in being given quality care, while the child is nurtured in an environment where they can learn the valuable life lesson of getting along with others.
Posted by: Nikki at March 29, 2007 10:49 PM