Affordable childcare is possible — and access to it would benefit us all

Childcare is a challenge for families everywhere — but solving the problem also presents a major economic and social opportunity.

Childcare is a challenge for families everywhere — but solving the problem also presents a major economic and social opportunity. Image: Getty Images

Reshma Saujani
Founder and CEO, Moms First
Tim Allen
Chief Executive Officer,
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  • America’s childcare policies rank 40th out of 41 wealthy countries, but access to affordable childcare is a challenge almost everywhere.
  • A global commitment to affordable and accessible childcare does not just benefit parents — it is a commitment to shared prosperity and a major opportunity.
  • That's why the World Economic Forum has launched the Global Future Council on the Future of Care Economy, a group of experts committed to finding solutions and opportunities for childcare, eldercare and broader social infrastructure.

Last month, we asked followers on Instagram to share how much they pay for childcare. We received over 1000 responses, from parents spending more on daycare than their monthly mortgage payment, parents who’d quit their jobs because childcare fees ate up their paycheck and parents who moved overseas for more affordable care.

According to a 2021 UNICEF study, America’s childcare policies rank 40th out of 41 wealthy countries, due to a lack of parental leave and dearth of quality, affordable childcare.

Indeed, while American families report spending upwards of $6,000 per month on childcare, the US government only invests about $500 per family each year for children 2 and under.

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Childcare: a global challenge, and a global opportunity

In many ways, childcare is a uniquely American crisis, rooted in an exaltation of individualism and the primacy of the nuclear family. And yet, these stories and the stories of parents from all across the world remind us that childcare is, in fact, a global challenge with global implications. The response, therefore, must be global.

Throughout the world, childcare policies, philosophies, and problems are as varied as nations themselves: from stigma against male parental leave in Japan, to lack of affordable daycare in New Zealand, to inadequate rural childcare options in Morocco. Yet, we know that across the board, when families have access to quality, affordable childcare, economies thrive—and so do kids and communities.

Countries that offer access to quality, affordable early childcare boast more women in the labour force, smaller wage gaps and higher family incomes. This holds true in poorer countries too, where kids are almost five times less likely to have access to any quality care than children in high-income countries.

Take, for example, Nairobi, Kenya, where researchers offered vouchers for an improved-quality childcare centre to a control group of 850 mothers. These parents were 30% more likely to participate in the labour force, and earned 24% more than they did before participating in the study, without increasing the number of hours they worked.

It’s not just Kenya; a randomized trial of 10,000 low-income families in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, revealed that access to a free childcare programme almost doubled mothers’ labour force participation, and increased family income by 16%.

In America, around a third of all mothers report that they would seek out higher-paying jobs or take on more hours at work if they were only able to access affordable, reliable childcare.

The economic potential of accessible childcare

That childcare provides so much economic opportunity matters. World Bank studies on nearly every continent show that higher incomes for women are correlated with increased household spending on education, health, nutrition and housing.

When we provide childcare in countries that lack it or improve existing care systems we’re doing more than uplifting women and families. We’re committing to our shared prosperity. Around the world, 350 million children who have yet to reach primary school age lack access to childcare. Providing this basic need could add some $3 trillion to the global economy each year. Cities and countries that scale up access to childcare grow their economies, expand businesses, and fill their tax coffers. What’s more: building new childcare infrastructure could create more than 43 million jobs globally.

Childcare is more than a benefit to our immediate economic and geopolitical outcome; it’s an investment in our shared future. For preschool-aged children, access to quality childcare and education drives better nutrition and better health and academic outcomes. Children enrolled in a community-based childcare programme in Guatemala ate more nutritious foods. In Bangladesh, a similar pilot programme reduced child mortality rates. And when older children are no longer charged with watching their younger siblings, they can complete their education and participate in the workforce. Rates of early marriage and early pregnancy are lower. In every way, their futures look brighter.

Businesses and the future of childcare

The global business community can play a meaningful role in protecting and expanding childcare. That’s why it’s so significant that the World Economic Forum hosted a public session on Care at this year's Annual Meeting in Davos and why we’re proud to Co-Chair the recently launched Global Future Council on the Future of Care Economy. The Council is a newly-formed group of experts working to find integral solutions for childcare, as well as eldercare and broader social infrastructure.

Our hope is more business leaders contribute to, and heed the recommendations of, this critical group — which estimates that expanding the global care economy is an $11 trillion opportunity. In particular, men, who comprised the majority of those attending the Annual Meeting this year, must take up this mantle, as fathers stand to benefit from global childcare reform just as much as mothers.

Together, we can advocate for our organizations to provide childcare and robust paid family leave. We can support candidates and policymakers around the world who pledge to make childcare a priority. We can champion innovative new childcare programmes that reflect the lived realities of people living in those communities — inside the United States and beyond.

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