PARENTS SIGNIFICANTLY DECREASED THE AMOUNT OF TIME SPENT DOING ACTIVITIES WITH THEIR CHILD.
Moms do end up working outside the home more. Kids get more of their care outside the home, with boys getting more care in institutional daycare centres than girls do. And, as mentioned, parents’ interaction with their kids changes. In fact, girls are most hard done by as a result. As the authors write, “Following the policy introduction parents of children aged 0-3 significantly decreased the amount of time spent doing activities with their child, focusing on their child, reading to their child, and laughing with their child. These estimated declines are approximately twice as large for girls relative to boys.” That sounds bad for girls but in fact it merely eliminates a bias that previously had parents focusing these activities three to four per cent more on girls before the introduction of the policy. (Who knew? Not the policymakers, I bet.)
In trying to explain these results, the authors say “there is likely a myriad of parental responses that are acting together rather than a single specific pathway.” Faced with that complex reality, many people might conclude policy would do better to turn to other, simpler problems or to aim scrupulously at remaining neutral regarding parental choice when focusing resources on kids.
Unfortunately, Lehrer and Kottelenberg suggest instead that policy-makers should barge into the neuroscientific literature for guidance on how to more carefully tailor future childcare interventions.
At least the Lehrer-Kottelenberg study focuses on cheap daycare’s real outcomes: how kids do as a result. As the new Fraser Institute report on Quebec’s daycare experience argues, GDP rather than well-being has often been the at least implicit focus instead. Supporters of the policy have argued in effect that it’s good because it’s self-financing: It allows mothers to enter the work force and their taxes then pay for the program.
To begin with, that’s doubtful on empirical grounds. It’s hard to judge just who has entered the work force because of the greater availability of daycare. And then there’s the problem of whether their taxes add up to the almost $10,000 per child that “cheap” daycare now costs. The Fraser study suggests they probably don’t.
But beyond that there’s the question of just what it is that public programs should be aiming to do, maximize GDP and/ or tax revenue — or try to increase well-being? Biasing parents’ choices toward entering the formal work force rather than staying home during their kids’ infancy and providing buckets of TLC and intimacy is not obviously the best way to maximize well-being, even if it were great for GDP or the public finances. How parents parent appears to change with inexpensive daycare, such as in Quebec, and it is not for the good.