National Post (National Edition) - - FP COMMENT -

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.



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