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  • Would you leave your children home alone while at work?



    By Claudia Piras

    Free daycare services do not ensure a significant increase in women’s participation in the labor market. Why? The results of an after-school activities program in Chile may have the answer.

    Picture: IDB

    Picture: IDB

    What is the most common reason given by women when asked why they are not looking for a job? Just what you might think: because they have to take care of their children.

    This was the answer given by almost 40 percent of non-working mothers of children under 14 surveyed as part of a study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) study in Chile. The results can be viewed in the IDB’s Development Effectiveness Overview (DEO), an annual publication by the Bank that describes what works–and what doesn’t–in development. 

    And what is the most common policy advice given to governments that want to promote female labor force participation? Again, just what you might think: invest in childcare programs.

    That leads to the more complicated question: Why, then, don’t countries necessarily see a significant increase in women’s participation in the labor market when they invest in expanding access to daycare?

    Part of the answer may be the fact that caregiving doesn’t end when the children reach age six and start school full-time.

    To further understand the problem, it is useful to keep in mind some of the fundamental circumstances involved:

    • School day: In most countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, the school day traditionally lasts between four and five hours, either in a morning or afternoon session.
    • Work day: The average work day in the Region is close to eight hours, without taking into account commuting time. This is incompatible with the school schedule.
    • Unattended children: Unless parents have no choice, they feel it’s not safe to leave school-age children alone in the house.
    • Mothers: Women are the main caregivers of children, regardless of the children’s age.

    Taken together, these factors help explain why, regardless of the supply of day care centers, many women are still constrained from working outside the home even when their children start elementary school.

    Picture: IDB

    Picture: IDB

    These factors also help explain what has been a puzzling question in Chile, where women are as educated as men and have the highest level of schooling in Latin America and the Caribbean, yet where the average female labor force participation of 43.5 percent in 2011 was 9 percent lower than the regional average.

    In 2011, the government of Chile launched the 4-to-7 Program, which provides after-school activities for children aged 6 to 13 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

    Its objective is to help women participate in the labor market by providing a safe place in public schools where children can go after the school day, get help with their homework, and participate in a variety of activities such as art and culture, sports, and computer classes.

    Today, 196 schools and 11,500 children are enrolled nationwide, and more than 8,000 women are beneficiaries. The IDB, in partnership with the Chilean National Women’s Service (SERNAM), conducted an experimental impact evaluation to measure the results of the program.

    Because the demand for the “4-to-7” program exceeded its capacity, it was possible to randomly offer daycare vacancies to some of the mothers requesting the service.

    This in turn facilitated the application of the impact evaluation and a follow-up household survey to determine the impact of the program on mothers’ labor force participation, employment, and use of after-school childcare.

    Picture: IDB

    Picture: IDB

    The women who were offered a vacancy for their children became the treatment group, while the ones who didn’t were part of the control group.

    The evaluation showed positive effects of the program: employment of mothers who were offered afterschool care for their children increased by 5 percent, and their labor force participation increased by 7 percent relative to the average for the control group.

    No statistically significant effects were found in terms of the mothers’ hours worked or their income when compared to the last job held by the mothers.

    See full infographic here. Image: IDB

    See full infographic here. Image: IDB

    The most surprising finding was that the subgroup that increased its labor force participation and employment outcomes most was the group of women who, in addition to having children in the program, also had children younger than 5.

    Why would the 4-to-7 Program have a greater impact on women with young children when the supply of daycare in Chile has expanded six-fold in the previous seven years?

    The explanation is that those mothers, even though they might have had access to day care for their younger children, had still needed to stay home to supervise their school-age children in the afternoon. Providing an after-school program for the older children almost doubled the enrollment of small children in formal day care for those families.

    This finding highlights the need for public policies to take an integrated and coordinated approach to supplying child care services that encompasses not only early childhood daycare but also before-school and after-school programs for children between 6 and 13 years old.

    It’s clear, and it’s understandable, that mothers in Chile, like anywhere else in Latin America and the Caribbean and across the world, do not want to leave their children home alone.

    This story is one of the impact evaluations included in the Development Effectiveness Overview, an annual publication that highlights the lessons learned from IDB projects and evaluations.

    Download here the evaluation “Childcare Indivisibility and Maternal Employment“.

    About the author:

    Claudia Piras is a lead social development economist in the Gender and Diversity Division at the IDB headquarters in Washington, DC.

    One Response to “Would you leave your children home alone while at work?”

    • Diether Beuermann :

      Interesting findings! But need to be careful regarding potential negative effects on children’s cognitive and social development. Earlier studies have shown negative effects of not having at least one parent at home during the early years (0-5 years old) in particular when parents are college graduates. These negative effects on child development during the early years have been shown to be long lasting reaching adulthood earnings. So, if we are successful in incentivizing more female labor force participation and employment; we are also increasing the number of children being raised during their early years without presence of at least one of their parents at home during most of the day. Therefore, benefits in terms of increased labor supply; need to be contrasted with potential costs of kids lower early development. If this could be evaluated and traced out from this experiment by comparing kids of treated women who would have otherwise been with mom at home against kids from comparable control women who still have mom at home would be very interesting.

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