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Nursery provision improves career opportunities for mothers

Switzerland lags behind compared with other countries when it comes to childcare.

Provision in the French-speaking part of Switzerland is more widespread than in the German-speaking part of the country. This provision strengthens gender equality. This is the conclusion of a study conducted in the scope of the National Research Programme “Gender Equality” (NRP 60).

Many European countries are currently expanding childcare provision for preschool and school-age children: nurseries, crèches, school-based daycare, lunch clubs and other forms of formal childcare. The objective is to provide mothers with greater opportunity to work outside the home at higher employment levels and to achieve greater equality in the employment levels of mothers and fathers. While 77% of mothers of children under 15 in Switzerland work, most of them are in part-time positions. In contrast, the majority of fathers are in full-time work (89%).

But does childcare actually have any impact on the employment situation of fathers and mothers? This was the question investigated by the Infras research agency and consultancy, together with the Swiss Institute for Empirical Economic Research at the University of St. Gallen, in a project under the auspices of the National Research Programme “Gender Equality” (NRP 60).

Switzerland lags behind
The two principal investigators, Susanne Stern and Christina Felfe, compiled the first ever nationwide statistical survey of childcare options. The results show that provision in Switzerland is weak compared with that of other countries. On average 11% of preschool children and 8% of school-age children have access to a place in childcare. Compared with the EU’s employment and equality objectives (the Barcelona objectives 2002), which recommend a level of 33% for preschool children and 90% for those of school age, Switzerland is therefore lagging a long way behind.

The best availability of childcare in Switzerland can be found in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, the canton of Basel-Stadt, and around the cities of Zurich and Zug. The worst availability is to be found in the central and eastern regions. Neuchâtel, Geneva and Basel-Stadt offer the greatest provision, at over 20% for preschool children; provision for school-age children in Geneva and Basel-Stadt is at 43% and 26%, respectively. The least well developed provision for preschool children is to be found in Appenzell Innerrhoden, Uri and Graubünden, whilst for children of school age the cantons of St. Gallen, Uri and Graubünden are the worst. The level of provision in these cantons is between 1% and 3%.

Reduced levels of paternal employment
Conducting an econometric comparison of several municipalities, the researchers found that in German-speaking Switzerland the increase in childcare availability has an effect on fathers’ and mothers’ employment. Their findings demonstrate that were the availability of childcare places per child to rise from an average of 3% to 11%, the percentage of mothers in full-time employment would increase from 4% to 12%. In contrast, they could also show that fathers would reduce their employment levels if more childcare places were available for their children – a remarkable result. The researchers were able to show that improved childcare services create a new situation in which couples rethink the classic distribution of paid and domestic work in the family and are able to create more gender-equal models.

The researchers conclude from this data that childcare has a positive ef-fect on gender equality. The reason is that mothers in full-time employment have greater career opportunities than those who work part time: they are able to develop their professional skills and improve their opportunities in the job market, approaching equality with those of men. If fathers reduce their working hours, this will improve the distribution of paid and domestic work, which will also have a positive influence on working mothers’ career opportunities.

Susanne Stern
Infras - Forschung und Beratung
Binzstrasse 23
8045 Zurich
Phone: +41 078 872 15 18 / 044 205 95 95
The results of this study and the text of this press release can be found on the NRP 60 website (www.nfp.60 > project > cluster 3) and on the website of the Swiss National Science Foundation.

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