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A Boost for Mothers and Their Offspring

More public childcare vacancies can support maternal employment and improve children’s future development

Public child care provisions play a fundamental role in modern societies: They facilitate mothers’ participation in the labour market and foster children’s educational outcomes. If children spend much of the day in child care institutions, their mothers may decide to return to employment after childbirth, better reconciling work and family life. At the same time, providing education to children at early stages of life seems to have a positive impact on later social, behavioural, and cognitive outcomes. 

Copyright: marcobir

In their study, Ylenia Brilli, Daniela Del Boca, and Chiara D. Pronzato have now confirmed this relationship between public child care provisions and mothers’ working status or children’s scholastic achievements, in the case of Italy. The results show that an increase in the coverage of public child care considerably increases mothers’ possibilities to work and also improves children’s outcomes in language tests.


The Italian challenge

Expanding child care coverage is one of the main goals of many countries, but it is even more important in Italy, where women’s labour market participation and children’s school outcomes are much lower than in other European countries.

The provision of child care services across Italy is quite heterogeneous, especially for children aged 0-2. This is because each municipality decides how to allocate the resources granted by the regions. Thus, the percentage of younger children covered by public child care varies from around 25% of children under the age of 3 in the north to only 5% in the south.

The findings suggest that public child care coverage has a positive effect on both mothers’ working status and children’s performance in primary school. The authors found that an expansion of 10 percentage points in public child care coverage increases mothers’ probability of working by 13 percentage points. Also, an increase of 1 percentage point in child care availability is associated with an improvement in language test scores of around 0.2 points.

Differences in child care availability within the country also play an important role: The greatest effects on the probability of mothers working and on children’s test scores are found in those Italian provinces where the availability of public care services is lower. This stronger effect may be due to the selection criteria used to assign child care vacancies in provinces where the number of applications is greater than the available places.



*This PopDigest has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° 320116 for the research project FamiliesAndSocieties.
( has the aim to investigate the diversity of family forms, relationships and life courses in Europe, to assess the compatibility of existing policies with these changes, and to contribute to evidence-based policy-making. The consortium brings together 25 leading universities and research institutes in 15 European countries and three transnational civil society organizations.