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!