The New York Times has a summary of an extensive study on daycare, conducted in Quebec. In 1997, Quebec began subsidizing daycare for all 4 year olds, regardless of income. By 2000, the program was expanded to include all children not in kindergarten. The program was very popular, and resulted in significant economic expansion in Quebec. Three economists, Michael Baker, Kevin Milligan, and Jonathan Gruber collected data on the well-being of the children going through daycare.
They compared those results with children in the rest of Canada during that same period. Unfortunately, they found that the children in daycare did not fare so well. The Times reports:
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.
I can hear the pontificating now. Mothers should stop trying to work and just stay home with the children. Enough of this liberal working mother stuff and be good, pro-family conservatives!
David Leonhardt, the author of the Times article, makes the following comment:
The big lesson from Quebec is that parents really do need more support, but they need the kind of support that allows them to choose what is best for their family. Mothers and fathers should get paid time off after a baby is born, and the money should come from a government insurance program, as it does in Canada, England and other countries. Companies need to be given incentives to create more part-time jobs that don't derail careers — and then find some up-and-coming men who want those jobs. High-quality preschool programs should be available for every low-income child and perhaps universally.
Wouldn't that really be pro-family?