A small amount of support is enough for success in securing a place in a childcare center and the job market. A new study shows that mothers subsequently work longer and the income gap between mothers and fathers decreases. This effect has been experimentally proven for the first time for women with low educational attainment who are particularly disadvantaged in the labor market.
In Germany, having a child still contributes more than in comparable countries to women working less and earning less in the long run. The so-called gender gap in working hours is particularly large for women with low educational attainment. Notably, less educated parents take advantage of childcare offerings for children up to three years old much less often than more highly educated parents.
"An important reason for this inequality is the complicated, decentralized, and often non-transparent allocation of childcare center places. Higher-educated parents have advantages here because they often have more knowledge and resources to successfully go through the enrollment process," describes Dr. Henning Hermes from the University of Düsseldorf, the hypothesis of a team of several research institutions.
Therefore, the scientists investigated whether access to childcare center places can be facilitated for families with low educational attainment and whether women can benefit in terms of working hours and income. They initially surveyed more than 600 families with children under one year old. Then, some of the parents watched a four-minute informational video about the right to childcare, the fee exemption for low incomes, and the benefits of early and multiple applications. In addition, they were offered individual support from (trained) students for the childcare center application. These students, for example, researched information about childcare facilities and application procedures, helped with completing forms, and reminded parents of important dates. The families were surveyed again half a year and one and a half years later.
Clear increase in working hours and mothers' income
A first analysis published in 2021 showed that the proportion of families with a childcare center place was about two-thirds larger among the less educated families who received support with the application. At the same time, the fathers took care of the children more, reducing the inequality between mothers and fathers in terms of childcare responsibilities by 30 percent.
Now the research team has shown that, due to the relief provided by the childcare centers, many women were able to return to full-time or substantial work in their careers. Mothers who received help with the childcare center application worked at least 30 hours a week roughly two and a half times more frequently than those who did not receive help.
The research project involved the German Centre for Higher Education and Science Research (DZHW), Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, the Catholic University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, the Technical University of Munich (TUM), the University of Augsburg and the Ifo Institute. It was funded by the Jacobs Foundation and the Research Council of Norway.
Henning Hermes, Marina Krauß, Philipp Lergetporer, Frauke Peter, Simon Wiederhold. Early Child Care and Labor Supply of Lower-SES Mothers: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Munich Papers in Political Economy, Working Paper No. 07/2022
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