Outcomes of early childhood education: Literature review

Publication Details

This literature review was commissioned by the Ministry of Education to provide policy makers with a synthesis of research that analyses the impact of early childhood education (ECE) for children and families.

Author(s): Linda Mitchell, Cathy Wylie and Margaret Carr, New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

Date Published: May 2008

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Chapter 6: Maternal employment

We found 12 studies analysing the impact of ECE on maternal employment for mothers with preschool children. All of these focused on the cost of ECE for parents, with some also looking at the expansion of ECE. All found that decreasing ECE costs for parents encouraged maternal employment.

Four recent studies use policy changes as "natural experiments" and aimed to isolate the effects on maternal employment of two-pronged policies that both increased ECE supply and reduced its costs (for Quebec: Baker et al., 2005, & Lefebvre and Merrigan, 2005; Argentina: Berlinski & Galiani, 2005; Israel: Schlosser, 2005). These policy changes contributed to increased maternal employment, within a range of 7–14 percent. The degree of expansion of maternal employment, and of the number of ECE places made available, matched each other most closely in Israel; in Argentina, employment increased at about 50–75 percent of the rate of expansion of ECE places, and in Quebec, at about a third of the rate of ECE expansion.

Hours of work also increased in Quebec and Argentina; they were not included in the Israeli study. The estimate of increased hours varies: in Quebec, up 30 percent in the Baker et al. study focused on two-parent families, but only 14 percent in the Lefebvre and Merrigan study focused on all families; in Argentina, an additional 10 percent, on an average of 32 hours a week (for all families).

Where one kind of ECE only is expanded, that may influence employment decisions: in the Quebec setting, which subsidised full daycare, it was full-time maternal employment that increased.

The evaluation of 17 Early Head Start programmes (Love et al., 2001, 2002) found that these two-generation intervention programmes for low-income families with infants and toddlers had small effect sizes of d=0.09 for being in employment when children were aged 3 compared to a (randomly assigned) control group.

The other main approach to analysing the impact of ECE costs, and policies affecting these costs, has come mainly from economic modelling studies using U.S. administrative or census datasets on employment, welfare, and child care subsidy receipt, and other data-sets which provide information about the local or regional setting, e.g. average child care costs, unemployment rates, and working family tax credit levels. Most analyses by economists estimate probabilities of being employed or on welfare in relation to changes in child care costs or subsidies. Some of these studies use actual child care costs; others use average costs. This difference in approaches, and what is specified in models, makes for a somewhat larger range of estimation of effects than "natural experiments" find.

For example, Queralt et al. (2000) estimate that an increase in child care subsidy for welfare recipients in Florida will increase the likelihood of their being employed by 9 percent if they face few other barriers. Lemke, Witte, Queralt, and Witt (2000), comparing the likelihood of employment with taking up education or training in Massachusetts, estimate the probability at 3.6 percent (and find a greater likelihood where mothers are living in an area with stable ECE centres). Baum (2002), using a national sample, estimates a 30 percent child care subsidy for low-income mothers would increase employment after the child's first year from 41 percent to 49.5 percent, a 15 percent increase, and no increase for non low-income mothers. Connelly and Kimmel (2003) find that welfare mothers would increase their employment by 26 percent if their child care costs were reduced by 50 percent, but only by 4.3 percent if the costs were reduced by 10 percent. In California, if the subsidy was 27 percent of costs, 49 percent of mothers on welfare (with children aged up to 14) would be engaged in labour market activity (cf. 21 percent if they did not receive a subsidy), an increase of 28 percent. A comparison of working poor families in Georgia found that mothers with a child care subsidy were more likely to be employed than those on the waiting list for the subsidy (98 percent cf. 80 percent) (Brooks, F., Risler, E., Hamilton, C., & Nackerud, L., 2002). Several of the studies note that the effect of child care subsidies on maternal employment is also dependent on how accessible both the subsidy and ECE are, since usually demand exceeds availability for both.

Overall, from these studies of the relation of ECE costs to low-income maternal employment, one could conclude that decreasing ECE costs for low-income parents does contribute to increased maternal employment—as one factor among others; and that the decrease in cost has to be sizeable to make a marked difference to employment. ECE availability is another factor in employment decisions, as are maternal characteristics, e.g. when looking at outcomes for low-income women, it may be easier for those with previous work experience or higher education levels to gain employment.

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