Is it too expensive in Europe to have children? Across the EU, birthrates have been steadily decreasing since the 1960s. By 2017, there were an average of 1.59 live births per woman in the European Union (well below the replacement-level fertility rate of 2.1 live births per woman). Could the high cost of childcare have something to do with that?

Childcare costs vary considerably across the EU. In the UK, for example, a couple with 2 children earning the average wage would spend over 60% of their gross household income on childcare (though, after benefits had been factored in, it would be more like 30%). Other countries also have high childcare costs; in Ireland, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Portugal and Luxembourg households will typically spend over 25% of their gross income (before benefits).

Elsewhere in Europe, however, childcare costs are comparatively low. In Malta, for example, the government provides free childcare services to parents or guardians who are in employment or education. Similar government-funded childcare schemes are operated in Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania. Should more EU countries follow their lead?

What do our readers think? We had a comment from Paul who argues that having children is a choice and so he doesn’t see why he (and other taxpayers) should have to foot the bill for government-subsidised childcare.

To get a response, we spoke to Jana Javornik, Associate Professor of Work and Employment Relations at Leeds Business School. Did she think that Paul has a point?

For another perspective, we also put Paul’s comment to Daniela Bulgarelli, Researcher at the University of Turin and author of ‘Quality of Employment in Childcare: Italian Report’. What would she say?

From a psychological point of view, everyone of us should be free to decide to become a parent or not. But then, from a societal point of view, children are our richness. From Darwin’s perspective, human beings need children to bring on their species… and then, an economist can easily explain that a healthy country relies on young people replacing old people getting retired or it relies on young people taking care of the elderly getting sick. And then, I want to go back to my first point: people are free to choose to become parents only if the state supports them managing working duties and children rearing. Otherwise, adults are not free to choose, they just don’t have children because they cannot manage how to rear them while working. Thus, this is also an issue of equal rights.

Next up, Nadine sent us a comment arguing that one of the main barriers to women in top leadership roles is the inflexibility of most working practices. Could government-funded childcare help improve the position of women in the workplace?

How would Jana Javornik respond?

Finally, we had a comment from Christos, who believes that childcare should be free because it makes economic sense in the long term. He argues that expensive childcare stops people having children meaning there are fewer children and ultimately fewer taxpayers.

How would Daniela Bulgarelli respond?

I agree and I would like to add that children attending childcare are more likely to become better students at every grade in school and this also means they will have better working positions as adult. This effect is stronger for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is demonstrated by international research. Of course, childcare services should be high quality ones.

Should governments provide free childcare for working parents? Does the high cost of childcare discourage people from having children? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStock – Anna Kraynova; PORTRAIT CREDITS: Bulgarelli (c) Bulgarelli
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59 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    catherine benning

    Should governments provide free childcare for working parents?

    This question is dishonest. What is meant by it is, should we pay additional taxation into the so called government coffers in order to foot the bill for mass breeding. If climate change is you big concern the answer is quite definitely, no.

    And here is a little insight into what the so called leaders of our political parties are trying to sell in their future manifesto. The UK Labour party, whom is said to be in cahoots with the EU is promoting, world wide open door policy. Meaning, against the will of the British population majority, they intend to bring in a policy, possibly under the table, that akin to the EU present open door rule we rejected by the Brexit majority vote, they suggest we do this insane move on a world wide scale.

    This is being floated even after the Brexit vote was brought about by mass immigration into the UK as one of the primary causes for homelessness, poverty wages, over packed and failing schools, a health service that cannot function as it should in a modern civilised society, all rebounding endlessly on the tax payers expected standard of living.

    The false information continually sent out that millions more coming into our country is not the downfall of our standard of living, which is never backed up by honest or indeed open statitics. We are refused the figures on the impact of this failed and nonsensical policy, as they want to pretend reality doesn’t exist.

    https://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/1182750/Labour-EU-citizens-free-movement-jeremy-corbyn

  2. avatar
    Любомир

    Or maybe governments should take less taxes from young parents so they can have more money to get the daycare THEY prefer…

  3. avatar
    Joana

    Unless you want the Europeans to desapear!

  4. avatar
    Enric

    Better give other type of help…but also consider that many women prefers to work then have more then one child.

  5. avatar
    Paul

    Rather than continuallly increase the scope of what “government” should do & the consequential continuous increase in state spending & taxes…start thinking about shrinking the state…tax less..let people keep their own money & make their own decisions & choices on what they can afford.

  6. avatar
    Mataroa

    What about governments STOP TAXING TO DEATH their citizens so we can stay home more and WE raise our children?

  7. avatar
    Mario

    something tells me all the benefits won’t go to Europeans

  8. avatar
    Bódis

    Low sales tax on child products and services and big tax cuts for families.

  9. avatar
    Oscar

    Given the evolution of the labour market, and that machines are better than humans at anything but bringing up creative capable children, we should certainly reconsider if we humans need to spend so long keeping chairs warm / doing the job that machines do far better than we do. I do not believe Governments should ever use our contributions as tax payers to sustain an unsustainable labour market – model: that where we continue focusing on tasks that do not contribute to our well-being. Healthy citizens are citizens that contribute far more than stressed out citizens. Governments should support paid parental leaves, encourage men to share the responsibility with their partners in the bringing of life to earth. A child that grows with equal access to both his progenitors, as long as these love each other and chose being with each other freely, is a healthy child. A healthy child can become a healthy contributor to her/his society when she/he grows up, and bring up other healthy children who in turn will do the same.

    Having Governments to provide free childcare for working parents is not the solution to the low natality rates we have in Europe, it is a very bad patch that will contribute to low paid jobs and large organizations making large profits… It will move the parent’s assets into the pockets of those who do not parent any child, ergo it shall not increase birth rate, it will actually do the opposite. Let people see having children with joy and without the constraints of having to pay for diapers or children clothes as if these were luxurious articles… work out the simple common sense in parenting, you who practice rule making, spend some time making children and bringing them up.

  10. avatar
    Chris

    Government should lower the taxes to the middle class and the working class. Not just giving tax breaks for the richest people like right-wingers do

  11. avatar
    Robert

    It depends on what type of citizens they want. Independent, wise and responsible adults capable of making well informed personal decisions or immature grown-ups, small cogs in the government machine, dependent people on a wiser, supposedly generous group of elite bureaucrats and politicians. Government shouldn’t shield us from the consequences of our bad decisions, but it shouldn’t either hinder our capacity to manage our own individual lives. Free is always the most expensive, on the long run. “Cheap”, because of free market competition, is always better than “free”.

  12. avatar
    Filipe

    Yes, for those who can’t afford it.

  13. avatar
    Maria

    No. No more taxes. EU is so Socialist. 😡😡🤮

  14. avatar
    Mateusz

    No. They should make economies better so a parent would be able to stay home.

  15. avatar
    Vivian

    State nurseries and kindergartens would be a nice idea; also subsidized private nursery schools.

  16. avatar
    Markas

    Till they are still involved in babymaking, yes.

  17. avatar
    Hugo

    There is no Free Lunches. Governments should lower the taxes to the minimum and leave people decide what to do with the money they earn. This way, they can choose what kind of childcare their kids can have. Government has no money. They only manage the money they collect from taxes.

    • avatar
      Chris

      Government should lower the taxes to the middle class and the working class. Not just giving tax breaks for the richest people like right-wingers do.

    • avatar
      Christopher

      You mean, collect it in their own pockets? ;)

    • avatar
      Hugo

      Chris why? Are the rich not working class? Wasn’t their money earned by their work? Weren’t their ideas different and provided value? If so, let them get their money and create incentives for them to reinvest their money in the economy by creating more jobs. This is how things should work. The way you refer is the socialist/communist way and we have a lot of bad examples in the eastern europe. I don’t know where are you from, but you can look into Germany as an example. 30 years after the unification the eastern cities still suffer from the communism and are still behind the western ones.

    • avatar
      Radu

      Hugo I wish more Europeans shared your views on this.

    • avatar
      Hugo

      Christopher – The bigger the state and taxes collected, higher probabilities exist for corruption.

    • avatar
      Hugo

      Radu – Unfortunately, Europeans still suffer from Socialism decease. That’s why Europe is not yet a Federation. If someone is hungry, don’t give them a fish, instead teach them how to fish.

    • avatar
      Tatjana

      You want to make another US? It is funny when Europeans have such liberal politics.You probably are debt free from college coz you did not need to take 200k of student loan and if you are sick you go to your doctor without anxiety If you PRIVATE medial insurence will cover it.Suck hypocrite some people! If you want to pay min taxes and pay everything out of pocket go and life in US.

    • avatar
      Vivian

      Tatjana, well said! As wife to a cancer patient I can vouch for your words; I am grateful beyond words for free healthcare. If we lived in the US, we would have probably become homeless just to pay for treatment – as if getting cancer at 45 was our choice.

    • avatar
      Chris

      Hugo – No, their money is made by their employees labour. Western Europe has never been socialist even for a second. The social politics of Europe are Christian democratic politics. Besides the socialsm as an idea was created centuries before the birth of Marx. You need to read more and watch Fox News less.

    • avatar
      Mark

      Hugo you obviously don’t understand what modern social democratism intends, no one wants to take away free enterprise or go Stalin or Mao. A little socialism to curb oligark-run societies and lift the working poor out of poverty, with free healthcare and education, is exactly what we need, not dog eat dog capitalism for the rest of us, while an elite aristocracy sits holding all the balls.

    • avatar
      Hugo

      Tatjana, I don’t want to pay for services that I don’t use and when I need to use them, I can’t use them because the system is overcrowded. I want to pay for what I use, and yes, I would prefer to live in the US. You’re talking about the insurances. Yes, I want to have an Insurance to cover me full medical expenses and not paying for the expenses I don’t take. If I could choose, I would move my money from any NHS to a PHS.
      I don’t want to see my money to be spent with people that don’t want to contribute for the society and I don’t want to see the Government acting as my Nanny. I have my brain to know what’s best for me.
      And, by the way, do you know how many european countries are richer that the top 30 US’s states? … NONE. The poorest 3 states in the US only loose for the top 5 European countries. So… where do you prefer to live?

    • avatar
      Vivian

      Hugo just make sure you or your family never get seriously ill. I love the US (lived there for some years) but it’s not a good country to live in if you have serious health problems. In short, it’s great as long as you’re among the lucky ones.

    • avatar
      Hugo

      Vivian – I can wish the same for socialists… You can go to Venezuela, Cuba or North Coreia to live and understand the power of socialism.

    • avatar
      Tatjana

      Hugo are you American? Seriously you sound like one.Usually US citizens bring Venezuela as example of socialism. I get them, they grow up with a fear of government intervention but if you are European you should probably know the difference between socialism and democratic socialism. Regarding health US citizens pay a lot of premiums if you are smoker or have a disease and are druining in student loan debt and private pension systems and 401K only if the company provides one. The system in the European country is welfare focus is not working perfect but doesn’t leave anyone alone. I get your point but Europe will never be that because people will never let that to happen. You should probably move in US I think you will be better there.

    • avatar
      Vivian

      Hugo we live in the EU, with a longstanding social – democratic focus. No need to emigrate anywhere.

    • avatar
      Róbert

      Tatjana get used to the idea that European values are not necessarily social-democratic values. The numbers of classical-liberal or conservative Europeans are growing yet again. Europe was the source for US individualism, in the first place, so it’s not some weird foreign ideology, it’s the only sound ideology for a lot of Europeans who value rate of progress more than safety and comfort, justice more than equality.

    • avatar
      Tatjana

      Róbert, in my book equality and comfort does not exclude justice and progress. The only people benefit from extreme liberalism are rich people. If you don’t have a capital you will never make a capital in consequences if you are born poor/middle class you will never move up Strong middle class is essential not strong high class. Education and medical services should never be for profit only.I don’t know about you but I am not comfortable as a middle class citizen getting huge student loan to study at good university.

    • avatar
      Róbert

      Tatjana things are more complicated, in the end we all desire the same thing, a better life for everybody. Only the solutions which we believe will get us there, differ. The only thing that really changes life quality is technological progress. Poor people from an advanced society are much richer than those from an undeveloped one. And because poverty is natural but wealth require sustained effort and wise choices, that society which uses positive motivation for its people (rewards stress through profit accumulation) to create and innovate over their limit of comfort, will maximize development and progress, and the pie will grow, because economy isn’t a fixed pie. People are not equal, some are tall, some are short and the only way to make them all equal is to cut the tall man’s legs. But that won’t make the short man a better basketball player, it’ll only make the tall man worse. The short man’s perception about himself improves but objectively, his situation doesn’t improve, in fact it’s getting worse. The short man is the poor and his piece of pie won’t grow, because the pie won’t grow. Equality is good inside the family, but it’s counterproductive outside of it, in society.

  18. avatar
    Христо

    Yes. And everybody who says no is a Republican from the US who has no idea how the world works.

  19. avatar
    Olivier

    No.. Education of children should not be delegate to governments like nazis planned to do. When parents make babies they must take care of them.. Mothers should be mothers and fathers should be fathers…

  20. avatar
    Rita

    Yes!! With quality, safety and emphasis on education. They will be the future Europeans decision makers.

  21. avatar
    Ana

    Yes, and also promote the articulation family/work… And a lot of other public policies to eliminate male violence against women and children and all forms of discrimination against women.

  22. avatar
    Xristoforos

    No, parental leave its fine. Kids need parents warmth, no foreign hands.

    • avatar
      Debating Europe

      What else do you think governments should do to support families?

    • avatar
      Bea

      Yes, of course! They must do it if they want people to have children and work, too.

    • avatar
      Debating Europe

      but is it fair that other tax payers have to pay for it?

    • avatar
      Bea

      And is it fair if you have no children and you pay for a school, and if you are never been ill and pay for a hospital?

  23. avatar
    Maria

    Dont tax and people will have money for a lot of things. Be free from government.

    • avatar
      Debating Europe

      Without tax income, how would states be able to cover their necessary expenditures though?

    • avatar
      Ana

      In such a case Maria are you considering keeping out of all the infrastructures and subsidized transportation, health services and schools?

    • avatar
      Maria

      today we pay for health/ education/security. Captivations from Centeno our finance minister made all the services eorse than ever. Nowadays our taxes go to corruption of the politics and so called elites. We work, and taxes are rising. There is a lot of people working less and less, because they are tired of working and having no savings.

    • avatar
      Maria

      I dont use public transportation for the places where I work , because we have such a poor transportation network in Lisbon. I pay and dont get almost nothing. Money from taxes goes to corruption of the Oligarcs.

    • avatar
      Ana

      So I see Maria, you leave up in the air in a never landing flight self-sufficient and self-sustainable in all chapters!
      And as you have call them to this argument, please name and shame the ones you called “Oligarcs”.

    • avatar
      Maria

      Well I decided not to talk with a ship from the animal farm

    • avatar
      Ana

      I presume you wanted to mean “sheep” instead of “ship”! So when you are not able to argue you choose to insult! So typical!

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