The Benefits of High Quality Child Care for Mothers and Children
by Lisa DiFalco
With the average cost of child care now at $16,514 for many American families, it may be difficult for many parents to afford quality child care, and some mothers often find themselves delaying a return to the work force due to the expense. Studies show that those who may least be able to afford high-quality care may benefit the most. A growing body of research supports the findings that quality child care positively impacts child development and allows disadvantaged mothers to have more successful careers. James J. Heckman, Nobel laureate economist at the University of Chicago and study leader, speaks about the impact on mothers when he said:
They’re engaged more in the work force, they’re now active participants of society, they’re more educated, they have higher skills. So what we’ve done is promoted mobility across generations.”
Understand more about the discussions surrounding quality child care and recent studies showing the benefits of quality child care for mothers and children.
Affordable Child Care Taken On by Republicans
Ivanka Trump attempts to build consensus by gathering lawmakers together to initiate advances on the topic of affordable child care. In doing so, she is placing herself in an unusual position of becoming a champion of an issue typically touted by Democrats while forging new alliances with Republican women.
She has met with female lawmakers and sent out invitations to Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Susan Collins of Maine, two senators, to sit at her table during a lunch to honor women. She also spoke with Senator Bob Corker to discuss the issue. In general, Republican women in Congress interested in federal child care concerns have had a difficult time being heard within their party and are often dismissed by Democrats.
American working families pay an average of approximately 30 percent of after-tax income on childcare. This amount is significantly more than the 10 percent or less spent in a number of other Western countries. However, issues of college tuition, health care costs and homeownership often get the spotlight. Ms. Trump said:
“One of the important elements of this plan revises the current tax code to eliminate the disincentive for re-entry into the work force. Women, who are disproportionately most likely to step out of the work force to provide unpaid care, often lack the ability to return to work because it can be hard to rationalize stepping back into the work force and incurring the enormous expense of child care when you are also making less than the primary earner in your home yet taxed at the highest household rate.”
Her initiative to draw more attention to the topic and work with other women may help in pushing forth a policy on child care that both Republicans and Democrats can get behind.
Benefits May Be Significant
In an analysis of two experimental programs offering free, full-time child care to children from eight weeks to five years of age, findings showed that mothers in the experimental program earned more. Earnings were higher when children entered preschool, and differences between the group in the experimental program and that of the control group were still apparent two decades later.
As for the children involved, boys of the experimental program were found to earn an average of $19,800 a year and had six months of additional education at the age of 30, when compared to boys in the control group. When girls reached 30, they earned approximately $2,500 more and had two additional years of education.
Other aspects of the study were also remarkable. Men who were participants and were now in their mid-30s:
- Had fewer misdemeanor arrests;
- Were less likely to have high blood pressure; and
- Had a 33 percent less likelihood of being a drug user.
It appears that boys benefited more than girls when it came to the long-lasting impact of the experimental program that cost $18,514 per student annually but was estimated to have a return of $7.30 for every dollar. Other studies also support the findings that disadvantaged boys benefit more from early intervention strategies.
The United States spends far less than other comparable countries on child care. In the U.S., only 0.4 percent of gross domestic product is spent on child care, making it the lowest level spent in this area when compared with other industrialized countries. The average stands at double that amount.
Other research shows that the benefits of government spending on early childhood care and education outweighed those of flexible schedules and parental leave and positively impacted women’s employment, fertility rates and earnings while decreasing gender pay gaps. It appears that keeping women in the workforce allows them to earn more. Claudia Olivetti of Boston College, study co-author, said:
“Making it easier to be a working mother mattered most. There is a higher premium for careers from staying in the market.”
There are advantages for both women and children when quality child care is more affordable. Women are often able to continue to work in their chosen field full time, rather than work part time or become a stay-at-home parent. As for young children, they benefit from additional education, higher earning potential, fewer criminal misdemeanors and potentially improved health outcomes.
Why Should We Talk about Child Care?
It becomes easy to see that the availability and affordability of quality child care can make a profound difference on the lives of families. New political initiatives may allow for additional tax credits, rebates and more. While this may not address every aspect that plays into gaining access to high-quality child care and supporting mothers in their decision to stay in the workforce, it may be a step in the right direction. Policy makers, researchers, economists, health professionals and communities at large need to find a way to make affordable quality child care possible for every family.