Today, Women’s Day, we celebrate all initiatives that seek to close gender gaps in Latin America and the Caribbean. From the point of view of early childhood policies, we know that there is abundant evidence on the impacts that child care programs have both on child development and female labor participation in developed countries. However, rigorous evidence for the region is scarce. This brings us to this question: What do we know about the relationship between child care and greater opportunities for women in Latin America and the Caribbean?
It’s no secret: Having child care frees up a mother’s time to go to work. Several recent studies in low- and middle-income countries (including some Latin American countries) show that the provision of child care programs – public, subsidized or affordable – increases women’s employment by anywhere from 5 percent up to 47 percent.
On a closer look, however, the evidence is nuanced.
In Chile, for example, where the labor market has higher levels of formality, full-time public child care services enabled mothers to enter the labor market. In addition, subsidized services enabled them to find better paying jobs and have greater chances of being employed in jobs of higher formality. In contrast, another analysis in the same country showed that forcing large employers to provide and finance care services raised the cost of hiring women and reduced their wages.
How do we find ways to benefit both children and mothers?
The literature is consistent in pointing to quality in child care services as a critical element in contributing to children’s well-being and development, with benefits that last a lifetime. For this reason, it is key to promote evidence on the impact child care centers have on women’s labor participation without neglecting child development outcomes.
The good news is that we have evidence that points in that direction. The provision of quality-based child care services can increase job opportunities for mothers today and school attendance of school-age children. This was demonstrated by an experimental study on the benefits of day care centers (creches) in Rio de Janeiro.
Moreover, in Nicaragua the nationwide impact of day care centers for children aged 0 to 4 years on child and maternal outcomes was evaluated, finding substantial positive impacts on children’s socio-emotional development and maternal labor (22% increase), which makes the program highly cost-effective.
Policies to help close gender gaps
To further contribute to closing gender gaps, it is key to promote more initiatives that estimate the impact on children’s development and the repercussions on parents’ job opportunities in order to obtain meaningful cost-benefit analyses, especially on maternal outcomes.
Women in Latin America and the Caribbean spend three times as much time as men on household chores, and child and elderly care— furthermore, these are unpaid tasks. In order to expand women’s opportunities in the labor market, the main constraints that limit their participation must be addressed. One very important constraint is the difficulty they face in accessing job training programs and quality employment opportunities because they lack access to quality care services.
But support must go beyond addressing this constraint. Some of the policies that should be promoted include: (i) flexible work arrangements for both men and women that can produce equalizing effects on the future of work; (ii) policies that achieve greater parity between maternity and paternity leave; and (iii) job skills development strategies that enable women to access the jobs of the future.
Efforts by the region’s countries to provide child care services have not been scarce. In Latin America and the Caribbean, investment in access to preschools and child care centers for children from 0 to 5 years of age has increased exponentially in the last decade. This represents a significant advance and also a great responsibility: It is essential to develop quantitative evidence that demonstrates with increasing precision the cost-effectiveness of quality early childhood interventions for the whole economy, bearing in mind that women are key actors in breaking the cycle of poverty in the present and future of the region.
Do you know of any initiatives that close gender gaps and promote quality child care? Share your comments and continue the conversation using the hashtag #ECDhubLAC.