Impact of income on childcare and work–life balance

In 2002, 46% of mothers of children under the age of seven years were not in paid employment and the same was true for 53% of mothers of children below school age, according to a recent analysis of the 2002 survey on childcare arrangements for young children in France. The analysis reveals that working time constraints are much higher for working parents in lower income groups, and that parents in these groups spend considerably more time minding their children than those with higher incomes. Only 56% of families with a low income avail of fee-paying childcare facilities, compared with 91% of high income families.

To combine work and family life represents a highly complex task for families with young children, in particular for working parents with children below school age. Working parents face challenges in relation to their work, such as forced part-time work, shift and weekend work, as well as in relation to the cost of childcare. In addition, opening hours of childcare facilities for young children also influence the type of childcare chosen by working parents.

About the survey

The 2002 survey on ‘Childcare arrangements for young children’, carried out by the Ministry of Health statistical research unit (Direction de la Recherche, des Études, de l’Évaluation et des Statistiques, DREES), provides the data to identify various childcare arrangements and their duration for each child surveyed over one week. A recent analysis of the survey results, ‘Combining work and family life according to the standard of living’, outlines the factors influencing parents’ choice of childcare arrangements for children under the age of seven years. In particular, it focuses on the impact of the available income on the choice of childcare arrangement.

As part of the survey, 3,141 households were interviewed on the basis of a structured questionnaire, covering 4,485 children aged between three months and seven years. The survey also included questions on the parents’ working time and working conditions, as well as on childcare costs and the level of satisfaction with the childcare arrangement. For the purpose of this survey, the households were divided into five groups according to their level of income, with families in group 1 having the lowest income and families in group 5 the highest.

Characteristics of low income families

The categories of families with the lowest income (Groups 1 and 2) show the highest proportion of families with three or more children, with 41% and 29% of families in the respective groups having three or more children. These groups also have the highest level of single parent families: 24% and 10% of families are single parents, compared with just 3% of families among the highest income group.

For families in the lowest income group, social welfare benefits represent almost 40% of the available gross family income. Moreover, some 34% of the households in this group have no parent working, while in 22% of the households one or both parents work; the respective rates for the highest income group stand at 2% of households with no parent working and 66% of households where one or both parents work.

More problematic for mothers in low income households

In terms of the gender division, 90% of fathers of children under the age of seven years and living in a couple work and 97% of these work full time, while 46% of their female counterparts do not work. The women’s rate of professional activity appears to be closely linked to both their level of qualification and to the household’s standard of living.

About 40% of mothers of children under the age of seven years work part time; 61% of women in the lowest income group have chosen to work part time, compared with 98% of those in the highest income group. In the case of mothers choosing to work part time, 95% of women decide to do so in order to spend time with their children.

Mothers of low income households face major problems in reconciling their work with family life because of unsocial working times, such as weekend work. In all, 31% of mothers in the lowest income group work at least half a day on Saturday and 14% of mothers work half a day on Sunday, compared with respectively 13% and 2% of mothers in the highest income group. Furthermore, inequalities arise in relation to the regularity of working times: 54% of women in the lowest income group have regular working hours, while 70% of women in the highest income group benefit from regular working hours.

Childcare arrangements with mother working full time

Childcare arrangements are highly important for working parents with children under the age of three years; following the child’s third birthday, they can go to school. The choice of the arrangement for children under three years of age, such as having a babysitter at home or sending children to a childminder, is closely related to the level of income. Overall, parents of all income groups make almost equal use of day-care centres for small children, namely crèches; one quarter of the children surveyed are going to a crèche. In general, the proportion of children in fee-paying childcare increases noticeably according to the parents’ standard of living.

Childcare arrangements for children under three years of age during the week, between 08.00 and 19.00, by household income (%)
Childcare arrangements for children under three years of age during the week, between 08.00 and 19.00, with a mother working full time, by household income (%)
  Groups 1 & 2 Group 3 Group 4 Group 5 All
Parents availing of fee-paying childcare 56 79 81 91 79
Parents availing of informal childcare arrangement 43 35 34 17 31
Parents availing of fee-paying childcare only 37 62 62 78 62
Parents availing of informal childcare arrangement only 23 18 14 5 14
Parents not availing of any childcare 20 3 4 4 7

Note: Children under seven years of age whose mother works full time.

Source: Survey on ‘Childcare arrangements for young children’, DREES, 2002

In the lowest income groups (Groups 1 and 2), parents provide 50% of the total care time required for their children while only 25% of parents in the highest income group (Group 5) do so.

Reference

Bressé, S. and Galtier, B., Direction de la Recherche et des Études de l’Évaluation Statistique (DREES), ‘La conciliation entre vie familiale et vie professionnelle selon le niveau de vie des familles’ (548Kb PDF) [‘Combining work and family life according to the standard of living’], Études et Résultats, No. 465, Ministry of Labour, Social Cohesion and Housing and Ministry of Health and Solidarity, February 2006.

Anne-Marie Nicot, ANACT

 

 

 

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