Journal Issue: Long-Term Outcomes Of Early Childhood Programs Volume 5 Number 3 Winter 1995
Patterns of Maternal Employment and Child Care Use
The impacts of these historical and ideological differences can be seen in the very different patterns of employment of mothers with preschool children which exist in the three countries. The labor force participation rates cited above include all women who engage in any paid employment, without distinguishing among occasional, part-time, and full-time workers. When one also examines the hours of employment and the age of the mother's youngest child, the differences among the three countries appear in even sharper relief.
Table 1 displays these more detailed patterns of employment among mothers with young children, using data drawn from national labor force surveys conducted in Sweden in 1984 and in the United States and the Netherlands in 1988. The Swedish survey encompassed 290 mothers of preschoolers among 669 women ages 18 to 64 in 1984, and the Dutch survey included 563 mothers of preschoolers from a random sample of 1,642 women ages 18 to 65 in 1988. Data on U.S. mothers came from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which included women ages 23 to 30 in 1988, of whom 2,650 were mothers of young children.1-4Hours Worked by Mothers of Young Children
The first line under each country in Table 1 shows the proportion of mothers with children under six years of age who worked not at all, less than 20 hours per week, less than 35 hours per week, or full time. In the Netherlands, the normal pattern is that mothers care for their preschool children at home. About three-quarters of Dutch mothers in the survey did not work at all, and the 27% who were employed tended to work only a few hours in the week. In the U.S. survey as well, almost half of mothers with preschoolers were full-time homemakers. However, the United States also had the highest proportion of full-time workers, with 33% of mothers with preschool children working more than 35 hours per week. Relatively few U.S. mothers had part-time employment. Sweden had the fewest full-time homemakers: only one-third of mothers with young children were at home full time. Swedish mothers were most likely to work 20 to 34 hours per week, or "long part-time." Only 19% of Swedish mothers with preschoolers worked full time.Effects of Child's Age and Child Care Availability
The U.S. women who were employed tended to return to work soon after giving birth: 55% of mothers with one-year-olds were in paid employment, many working full time. The rates of labor force participation by these U.S. mothers were well established in the first years after the child's birth, and they grew only modestly among mothers of older preschoolers. More than 60% of women with children ages four or five were working, 41% on a full-time schedule, making child care a crucial support. American parents make diverse arrangements for child care by using centers, family child care homes, and relatives, and by juggling their own schedules.5
In Sweden the employment rate among mothers nearly doubles after the child's first birthday. In the 1984 survey, only 41% of mothers with infants under one year of age were employed. Because Sweden offers parents 12 months of paid parental leave, mothers can remain home for a year without jeopardizing their jobs or their incomes. However, fully 80% of mothers with one-year-olds worked outside the home. By the time their children are two years of age, many Swedish women have secured public child care, which is available for half of the nation's two- to 6-year-olds. Even then, however, only 17% work full time.
The effect of the child's age on patterns of maternal employment can also be seen in the Netherlands. Only when their children reached four years of age did more than 30% of the Dutch mothers work, and even then, few worked more than 20 hours per week. Child and family policies in the Netherlands resemble those in the United States, although the Netherlands offers 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, compared with the 12 weeks of unpaid leave recently assured in the United States. Neither country has an extensive system of public child care, but the Netherlands also lacks a well-developed private child care market. According to a report published in 1993, a tiny 2% of all Dutch children under four, and 3.7% of those with working mothers, were cared for in child care centers.6
In sum, the situation in the three countries can be described as follows: In the United States, there is private child care, and mothers usually work (often full time). In Sweden, subsidized, quality public child care is easily available, and mothers work "long part-time," between 20 and 35 hours per week. In the Netherlands, until recently there has been little organized child care, and mothers have rarely worked outside the home. To explain these different patterns requires a fuller consideration of the historical background of child care and family policy in the three countries.