Journal Issue: Long-Term Outcomes Of Early Childhood Programs Volume 5 Number 3 Winter 1995
Early childhood programs can promote the development of children, and—if they offer full-day child care—they can also facilitate the employment of mothers with young children. Social policies that establish child care which is widely available, of high quality, and affordable can promote employment among women by making it significantly easier for them to hold jobs while their children are young. Conversely, policies that restrict access to child care can play a part in a broader social scheme that encourages women to remain home with young children, relying on their husbands or partners to serve as breadwinners.
This article examines the relationships among policies affecting child care and maternal employment in three advanced, industrialized nations (the United States, the Netherlands, and Sweden) that have different patterns of maternal employment and reliance on out-of-home child care. The female labor force participation rate in 1988 was only 52% in the Netherlands, while it was 67% in the United States, and 80% in Sweden.1 The extent to which children participate in early childhood programs varies across the countries as well. In the early 1990s, only 2% of Dutch children under age four were cared for in child care centers; 31% of U.S. children under five attended center-based programs or family child care homes; and 47% of Swedish children under seven were in child care settings.1 In part, these child care attendance rates reflect differences in child care policies. The Netherlands offers little organized child care of any type; in the United States, parents are responsible for arranging child care for preschool children in the private market; and in Sweden, the community plays a major role by providing and subsidizing a system of child care services.
These differences among the countries are partly explained by ideologies and broad social orientations which have acted through recent history to shape each nation's policies toward children and families. These policies are embodied in instruments as varied as tax law, social insurance programs, assurances of parental leave, and investments in child care programs and subsidies. Child and family policies reflect the nation's traditional values and contemporary economic forces. In turn, they dictate the choices facing women with young children as these women determine whether and on what terms they can participate in the labor market.