3/05/2006

Outsourcing: Day Care

In The Atlantic Blog, I read an article about women working and putting their children in daycare. This is a controversial subject because many people seem to look at the situation as either 1) enslaving the women at home or 2) liberating them from their bonds and letting them work. I don’t see it that way.

Personally, I think that it would have made all the difference in my life to have a mother at home. Economically, this article points out that a mother’s raising of her children is an investment that will provide great benefits in the future. The investment cannot be better made by anyone other than the mother.

The blogger points to research that shows that prekindergarten (day care or preschool) can increase the child’s performance in English and Math, but it can also increase behavioral problems and lack of self-control. Economically, if a mother wants to see a return on her investment, she must weigh the costs of behavioral and self-control problems vs. money earned at work. Later on in life, when the parents are retired, what type of return on that investment will the mother receive? Will the child be successful in life and be able to support the parents? On the other hand, will the parents be able to support themselves and their children?

10 comments:

Ella said...

This issue is hard to evaluate in economic terms. Most people would feel that they can do a better job raising their children than someone else. How do you place a dollar amount on the time you spend with your children and the values that you teach them? Although many mothers would come out ahead monetarily, the intangible benefits of staying at home may be worth more in the end.

Blake said...

While not all women have the option, I feel that there is nothing better for a child than to be reared by his mother. Mothers who are able to stay at home with their children can provide the attention, nurturing, and instruction needed for a child to have the best start in life, along with the best prospect for future success in all facets of life. Although society doesn't put much of a value on the work of a homemaker, and stay at home mom, their job is undoubtedly harder than any ceo businesswoman's in this world!

will said...

I agree that it is important to have the mother (or father) at home with their children if possible. I also feel their are more options than what have been mentioned. A mother can choose to work part-time after her children are in school so she is still home when they are home. The woman can also work at night so the father is home with the children while the mother is away. I know some woman who enjoy working part-time but also enjoy being at home. I know for some families it is not a choice they get to make and they do what they think is best for their families.
The second article which talked about prekindergarton I did not necessarily agree with. I strongly believe preschool helps children prepare for school. It may be true that children learn bad behaviors but they also learn to listen to adults and socialize with other children. I believe these benefits outweigh the cost. I also believe that if children don't go to preschool they will learn these same bad behaviors once they get to kindergarton.

parker said...

I would like to comment in regard to the statement that, "a mother must weigh the costs of behavioral and self-control problems vs. money earned at work." Although percentage wise it may be true that many children will learn greater skills at pre-school as opposed to staying home, within the community of people with whom I associate quite the opposite is true. The mothers that I know are much more intelligent than the day care workers I know and have more effectively taught their children the subjects learned by those attending day care.

zoe said...

The statement that a mother must weigh the costs of "behavior and self-control vs. the money earned at work" is off base. I was raised in a healthy environment with a mother who worked about half of the year. Just because she or my father were not with me every second of my child rearing years, did not, and does not, result in behavioral and/or self-control problems in later years. I think many of the problems with today's youth is in the upbringing itself, not with the exact amount of time each parent spent with their child. Although there are many benefits of being able to stay home with your children, in today's day and age it is not always a possibility.

Ole said...

I have seen both good and bad with the mother working outside the home. Personally I believe mothers should be with their children and not work when possible. I have also seen great mothers who do work full or part time and who are wonderful mothers. I believe the father should spend quality time with their children.

From the economic viewpoint, I thought this blog was interesting because let’s say a mother goes to work making $5.00 per hour. (I am not saying that all mothers would only be paid $5.00 per hour, but I think one needs to consider all the costs of having day care or baby sitters in order to work. I also bring up this example because I know of women that have done this.) She has to pay day care or a baby sitter at $4.00 per hour. So for an 8 hour day she makes $8.00. She then goes out to eat at subway and spends $7.00. So she’s left with $1.00 at the end of the day that she probably spent on gas, leaving nothing to show for at the end of the day except being away from her children. It doesn’t make much sense to me.

Brooke said...

I have worked with many working mothers that have gone through a similar dilemma. I believe that kids in daycare often receive good treatment, learning, and social activities. However, I do think that a parent can only be sure that their child is being raised the way they would like them to (at least from ages 1-5) if they are the person/persons actually caring for the child. This also brings up another interesting point. I don't think that a mom is the only one qualified for this job. I know a family in which the mother's skills pay more in the workplace, and the father has chosen to stay home with their kids. This arrangement has worked great for them. It would seem then that a child would benefit more from being home with a loving, nurturing parent (mom or dad) than with a qualified, caring, busy daycare worker.

Brooke said...

I have worked with many working mothers that have gone through a similar dilemma. I believe that kids in daycare often receive good treatment, learning, and social activities. However, I do think that a parent can only be sure that their child is being raised the way they would like them to (at least from ages 1-5) if they are the person/persons actually cared for the child. This also brings up another interesting point. I don't think that a mom is the only one qualified for this job. I know a family in which the mother's skills pay more in the workplace, and the father has chosen to stay home with their kids. This arrangement has worked great for them. It would seem then that a child would benefit more from being home with a loving, nurturing parent (mom or dad) than with a qualified, caring, busy daycare worker.

Dr. Tufte said...

-1 on Will's comment for a spelling error.

-1 on Ole's post for a spelling error.

Ella: it actually isn't very hard for us to "back out" values of services like this. There is uncertainty about this, but it is usually a cop out to say that it can't be done.

We need to be very careful in how we think about this.

If your neighbor has kids you benefit from a positive externality if they are well cared for. But ... as long as the care is the same, society is just as well off if a parent cares for the child and someone outside the family works outside that home as it is if the mother works outside the home and hires someone to provide care for the child.

What's important is that the care be provided the most efficiently. We tend to be biased that - on average - mothers provide the best care, followed by fathers. Perhaps that is true, but the phrase "on average" is the key: sometimes it will be more efficient for the mother to work outside the home and hire help.

Ella also pointed out that we also need to recognize that just about everyone thinks they're a good parent. We all think we're good drivers too, and look at that facts on that issue! We really need to be asking adults about their parents, and there is a large minority of those saying that their parents stunk at the job. We need to pay attention to them when considering this issue.

An additional factor that is forgotten in all of this is that we have fewer children, and a higher likelihood of parents surviving until their children reach majority. Add to that the fact that we are not struggling to survive, and we are led to the outcome that the typical child today probably receives a lot more parental guidance than any child received a hundred years ago.

Ole's point is common, but not really correct. The arithmetic of opportunity cost is fine, but it lacks marginal analysis. You can do the exact same arithmetic for most households when the first adult works outside as when the second one does. The marginal analysis comes in when we think of what might happen beyond this example. Even if all this is correct, it still implies that all improvements in the situation are gravy for the family - and we make choices all the time where we barely cover costs in the hopes that we will reap the upside potential.

Lastly, having said all this, keep in mind that a lot of what is happening when adults choose to work for others is an increase in liquidity rather than income. But ... that has to pretty valuable since we all choose to take that route (rather than say farming).

Cole said...

My wife and I decided early on that we would have children. With that, we also decided to do everything possible to allow my wife to stay home. This has worked well for us. My wife stays home for two reasons: 1) We do not want strangers raising our kids and 2) she is the best one of us to do the job. We have never looked at the "economics" of it all. Instead, we have focused on the welfare of our children. After all, there are some things money cannot buy.