Day care for mothers

Babies and Bosses: Reconciling Work and Family Life, Vol. 4, Canada, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom
OECD Observer

Which came first, working mothers or day care centres? More mothers in the workforce generally spur the development of childcare facilities. In this study of four of the wealthier OECD countries–Canada, Finland, Sweden and the UK–where three out of four women between the ages of 25 and 54 hold down jobs, the Swedish experience suggests that without publicly-assisted childcare, the upper limit for female employment would be around 60%.

However, good quality is also important, says Babies and Bosses: Reconciling Work and Family Life. Affordable and decent childcare not only helps families balance work and family life, but promotes child development too.

Sweden spends the most on formal day care at 2% of GDP, compared to Finland’s public spending at 1.1%, the UK’s 0.4%, and Canada’s 0.2% of GDP. The Swedish system is more expensive, as it is the only system that caters for children under 2 on a comprehensive basis. As a result, almost 72% of Swedish mothers with young children are in employment, compared with 59% in Canada, 52% in Finland, and 49% in the UK.

Yet, according to the authors, the Swedish model would not be easy to emulate, as it relies on strong, well-run local governments with the public support they need to invest public money. Sweden’s tax-to-GDP ratio is above 50%, one of the highest in the OECD area. The importance of government backing is also demonstrated in Canada, where public spending on childcare is about 0.2% of GDP. However, the province of Québec spends 0.8%. As a result, 40% of Canada’s childcare is located in Québec, serving less than a quarter of Canadian children.

As Babies and Bosses points out, both the Québécois and Swedish systems have integrated the management of day care services with that of primary schools, creating essential and inexpensive after-school facilities as well. The report recommends that Finnish policy should revitalise its out-of-school-hours care. Childcare in the UK, meanwhile, is seen as relatively expensive, the report notes, with limited hours and often inferior quality making it difficult for families to balance work and home obligations. Conscious of this and the need to sustain high employment, the government plans to build local services to provide all children aged 3-11 with affordable care facilities on weekdays throughout the year.

ISBN 9264009280. See for ordering details.

©OECD Observer No 250, July 2005

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