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14 Jun 2006 - 16:56
I've been a mother for 19 years. Throughout all of that time I've been reading articles, news items, and studies telling me daycare is not only harmless but actively good for children; daycare is the superior choice, better than being cooped up alone with your crazy mother. Quality time, not quantity time. The culture spent years banging on about that one. I heard it all. Children raised in daycare had better immune systems, better social skills, were better prepared for Kindergarten - you name it, some researcher somewhere had found it and I had read it. It was endless. My favorite moment was the day, probaby 16 or 17 years ago, I read an article in the New York Times characterizing boys raised in daycare as less sensitive and less responsive to adult direction than boys raised at home. My ears pricked up at that one. Whoa, I thought. A study showing daycare is bad for children! Heads must be spinning out there at the Times. But no. That wasn't what the study showed at all. The study showed daycare was good for children. Stay-at-home moms were the bad thing. Our boys were sensitive little wimps. If you wanted a manly boy, you had to go with daycare.
Pretty early on, I decided all of this stuff was likely to be bunk. I used my Bayes brain to figure it out.
So what do I find in today's issue of the New York Times? Gosh, it's an article on the very bad effects of daycare! What a surprise! Who would have thought!
Starting in 1997, the Quebec Family Policy subsidized day care for 4-year-olds at government-approved centers around the province. By 2000, the program had expanded to cover any child not old enough for kindergarten, all the way down to infants.... Centers from downtown Montreal to Hudson Bay were flooded with applications.... Almost a decade after the family policy started, however, there was still a big mystery about it. Nobody had done the work to find out how it had affected children. The province was spending $1.4 billion a year on a grand social experiment, yet no one had bothered to look at the results. So three economists took up the challenge a few years ago, realizing that the program offered an excellent way to examine a much-debated topic.... When they finished last year, the answer seemed clear. "Across almost everything we looked at," said Mr. Gruber, an M.I.T., professor, "the policy led to much worse outcomes for kids." Young children in Quebec are more anxious and aggressive than they were a decade ago, even though children elsewhere in Canada did not show big changes. Quebec children also learn to use a toilet, climb stairs and count to three at later ages, on average, than they once did. The effects weren't so great for parents, either. More of them reported being depressed, and they were less satisfied with their marriages — which also didn't happen in other provinces. Before you dismiss the researchers as just three more men starting a new assault in the mommy wars, listen to Jane Waldfogel, a leading child-policy researcher and the author of the book, "What Children Need" (Harvard University Press). "This is a very high-quality paper by high-quality guys," she said. "They're very careful. This is a paper that's going to stand."
When you read these findings in the stark language of the paper's abstract (pdf file) it's even worse:
The growing labor force participation of women with small children in both the U.S. and Canada has led to calls for increased public financing for childcare. The optimality of public financing depends on a host of factors, such as the “crowd-out” of existing childcare arrangements, the impact on female labor supply, and the effects on child well-being. The introduction of universal, highly-subsidized childcare in Quebec in the late 1990s provides an opportunity to address these issues. We carefully analyze the impacts of Quebec’s “$5 per day childcare” program on childcare utilization, labor supply, and child (and parent) outcomes in two parent families. We find strong evidence of a shift into new childcare use, although approximately one third of the newly reported use appears to come from women who previously worked and had informal arrangements. The labor supply impact is highly significant, and our measured elasticity of 0.236 is slightly smaller than previous credible estimates. Finally, we uncover striking evidence that children are worse off in a variety of behavioral and health dimensions, ranging from aggression to motor-social skills to illness. Our analysis also suggests that the new childcare program led to more hostile, less consistent parenting, worse parental health, and lower-quality parental relationships.
I'm waiting for an apology.
tee hee The day they find out helicopter moms are good for children is gonna be fun.
last but not least I hope I'm not upsetting our working moms. I don't mean to. In truth, I'm a working mom myself, though I've managed to work at home, which my Bayes brain thinks is a good idea. I don't know what I would have done if I'd had a job or career that I couldn't do at home. I probably would have worked. My point: I didn't throw up this post to criticize working moms, but to complain about stupid research while showing off my Extreme Bayesian Brain in the process. Last but not least, my friends who worked from the time their kids were infants have terrific grown kids. We (re-)met them all at Christmas, so we know. I'm just hoping Christopher & Andrew turn out as well.
update Good grief. I hadn't read the whole article when I wrote this post. They're still doing it:
The picture is murkier for toddlers and preschoolers. The stimulation they get at day care tends to make them better prepared for school than children who are home with a parent full time. Yet those who spend too many hours in day care or attend poor-quality programs also seem to be at greater risk of obesity and behavior problems.
Naturally this was the passage Ed chose to read aloud to me over lunch. "The picture is murkier for toddlers and preschoolers," he said. I guess that apology's not going to be coming any time soon. Bayes speaks: "The stimulation they get at day care tends to make them better prepared for school than children who are home with a parent full time" is bunk. Mark my words. I can even say why it's bunk. For years there's been a heaping load of research showing that firstborns and singletons are slightly smarter than later-borns, a phenomenon attributed to the fact that firstborns and singletons spend more time in the company of adults and less time in the company of other children, namely their siblings. Daycare means more time with other kids, less time with adults.
update update Thinking it over, I realized that the daycare parents used in the Canada study was government sponsored and government staffed. There was a time I would have thought that was good. After lo these many years in the public schools, that time is gone.
-- CatherineJohnson - 14 Jun 2006 Back to main page.
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Actually the day care in Quebec is government subsidized not government run. They supply funds to "qualified" daycare operations who then charge the parents only $7 a day. Most day care is provided by people out of their own homes. I do not know if this policy has caused an increase in day care use because anyone can apply for a $7 spot. Many people were moving out of fully private daycare to take advantage of the new subsidy leading to the need for more and more government subsidies needed to cover those who couldn't afford provate daycare. -- SeanPrice - 16 Jun 2006
Actually the day care in Quebec is government subsidized not government run. They supply funds to "qualified" daycare operations who then charge the parents only $7 a day. Most day care is provided by people out of their own homes. oh, that's interesting Apparently it sparked a huge increase. IIRC about 1/3 of that group was already using daycare; the rest had been stay-at-home moms. -- CatherineJohnson - 17 Jun 2006
hmm.....not sure where I got the 1/3 figure. Here's one passage from the paper: The introduction of universal childcare in Quebec led to a very large increase in the use of care. The proportion of 0-4 year olds in care rose by 14 percentage points in Quebec relative to the rest of the country, or roughly one-third of the baseline childcare utilization rate. This rise in childcare was associated with a sizeable increase in the labor force participation of married women. Participation rose by 7.7 percentage points in Quebec, or about 14.5% of the baseline. The difference between the rise in participation and the rise in childcare utilization primarily reflects reduced use of informal childcare arrangements, or the “crowd out” of informal childcare by this new subsidized childcare. Partly as a result of this large “crowd out”, the taxes generated by the new maternal labor supply fall far short of paying for the costs of the increased childcare subsidies. -- CatherineJohnson - 17 Jun 2006
Figure 3 in the Appendix shows the increase in daycare use in Quebec in comparison to the rest of the country. -- CatherineJohnson - 17 Jun 2006
From those charts, it looks to me that Quebec was catching up to the rest of the country.... sigh I don't have the patience to read the whole thing. -- CatherineJohnson - 17 Jun 2006
oh! I see where I got the one-third figure. I got it from the abstract. We uncover strong evidence of a shift into new childcare use, although approximately one third of the newly reported use appears to come from women who previously worked and had informal arrangements. The labor supply impact is strongly significant -- CatherineJohnson - 17 Jun 2006