Many women see themselves as the better providers of care for their children, and thus refrain from delegating child care. At the same time, they may be skeptical about their chances of being successful both as mothers and in their working career. One explanation for such a view could be lacking information on the psychological and educational effects of female labor market participation on children. Consequently, informing mothers about the consequences of maternal employment could have a positive effect on female labor force participation.
A new IZA discussion papers tests this hypothesis: Vincenzo Galasso, Paola Profeta, Chiara D. Pronzato and Francesco C. Billari designed a randomized survey experiment, in which 1500 Italian women aged 20 to 40 are exposed to information on the positive consequences of formal child care on children’s future educational attainments. Surprisingly at first glance, the authors find that women on average reduce their intended labor supply. However, there are substantial differences by educational attainment in the response: highly educated women respond to better information by increasing their intended use of formal child care. In contrast, low educated women do not modify their formal child care decision and reduce their intended labor supply. The authors explain these heterogeneous responses with different monetary incentives and different preferences for maternal care between high and low educated women.
For policymakers, these mixed findings send a warning signal about the true effectiveness of often advocated public policies regarding formal child care. The authors conclude that public policies should acknowledge that child care decisions by mothers may depend on budgetary restrictions — as in the case of low wage mothers — but also on maternal identity. Thus, some (low educated) mothers may in fact choose to stay at home and take care of the children, even when family friendly institutions are available.