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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: September 2009

2 - Making time for working parents: comparing public childcare provision



Early childhood education and care differ substantially across countries. First, opinions diverge as to the optimal age at which children's socialisation should begin, that is, the age at which children should be cared for outside the family circle, and these differences are reflected in the way a country's childcare system is organised (Letablier 1998). Some countries emphasise the importance of outside childcare options being available for children from as early as the end of maternity leave onwards. Others are in favour of children being cared for in the close family circle when they are very young and do not focus on developing outside care until children are 3 years of age (and up to the age at which they enter primary school). Second, countries also differ as to the sharing of childcare responsibilities between the domestic, the public and the private sphere. In some countries, ‘having children’ is considered to be a private choice, so that parents have to pay for the cost of children. In others, it is considered to be a public matter, in which case the state helps parents maintain their standard of living when they decide to have children. As a result, the former countries rely heavily on market intervention, while the latter focus on making the public system as all-encompassing as possible.

Governments can act on three levels to provide care for children and to avoid deterring dual-earner families from having children.

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