5 Reasons the Cost of Child Care Keeps Women At Home

Unemployment has been above 8 percent for 42 consecutive months, and women face far more obstacles than men in their efforts to enter and rejoin the workforce. One of the main reasons, says an article in Bloomberg, is childcare and specifically, the cost of childcare.

For an infant, the average annual cost of childcare can take quite a chunk out of a family’s income. Last year, such care at a center cost $4,600 in Mississippi and almost $15,000 in Massachusetts.

Nuri Funes, who runs the Bright Star Family Daycare center in Silver Spring, Maryland, sums up the dilemma, noting that a maddening “circle for everybody” has developed: Unemployed parents pull children out of childcare but then are impeded in hunting for a new job precisely because their child is home.

Five other reasons too many women find themselves caught in this circle, says Bloomberg:

1. Childcare isn’t cheap. According to the Arlington, Virginia-based Child Care Aware of America, the average cost of center-based care for an infant is more than 10 percent of a middle class family’s income.

2. For some families, childcare can cost more than a mortgage and other payments, to the point that parents realize they spend so much money on childcare as to make their salary irrelevant. Bloomberg quotes Denise Rohan-Smith, who has been providing home childcare in Missoula, Montana for some 30 years: “What’s the point of working, being away from your children, for 30, 40, 50 hours a week if you really don’t have anything to show for it besides a stack of bills?”

3. States started cutting childcare subsidies when the 18-month recession began in December 2007. Funding for childcare assistance has fallen by 6.8 percent from fiscal 2007 to fiscal 2010.

4. Women hold 9 out of 10 jobs in the childcare industry, according to data from the US Census Bureau. So, lower demand for childcare is contributing to unemployment for women.

5. Some recent demographic data suggests why the demand for childcare may remain limited. The birthrate in the US is falling: In 2011, there were 3.96 million births, a decline for the fourth year in a row since it was at an all-time high of 4.32 million births in 2007. There is a record-high number of grandparents —  some 74 million — in the US; they make informal childcare arrangements much more likely.

Indeed, of the infants and toddlers in my neighborhood, quite a few are cared for full-time by grandparents. The children’s parents have noted that they have or are considering childcare but are wary, with cost a significant factor.

Childcare, Choices, Careers

My autistic son Charlie is 15 years old. He goes to school all day but absolutely can never be left alone; my husband and I are both professors and can set up our schedules and work from home on some days. If not, I can guarantee you I wouldn’t be able to hold down a full-time academic position.

Even in such positions, women have to make choices. I’ll never forget the moment when, at an English department meeting at another New Jersey university that I used to work for, an assistant professor on the tenure track stood up and announced that she was resigning. The cost of childcare took up a huge percentage of her salary, she said, plus she had realized that, even when she was not on campus teaching and advising students, she would need hours and hours to complete research to qualify for tenure and promotion. Reading books to her children and spending time with them in their young years just seemed the better, and certainly more economical, solution.

I was not in a tenure-track position at the time, so my colleague’s decision resonated even more with me. I still remember the pained look on her face; she knew what she was giving up.

Women should not have to make such choices and lose their careers because the cost of childcare is too high. We can do far better to support women in the workplace, without having to give up so much.


Related Care2 Coverage

A Primer for Men On Women’s Rights

Only 50 Percent of U.S. First-Time Mothers Receive Paid Leave

Gillibrand: Childcare IS a Jobs Agenda


Photo by LizaWasHere


Shannon B.
Shannon B5 years ago

It is true that rising prices of day care centers or selection of nannies has let many womens to leave their career & sit back at home. But this is not the overall reason, there are many reason related to nurturing of the kids in day care centers, where news of kids being drugged to sleep has been heard of. That is why many working parents have lost their faith from these centers.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson6 years ago

a lot of child care option cost more than what a woman makes... and thus defeats the purpose. Not to mention that most around here are either sub par or religion based

Michael G.
Michael T6 years ago

You are so correct Elaine, the system is rigged and not in your favor, or in the favor of most Americans.

Each household now needs three parents. Two working and one minding the kids.

Elaine Pischke
Elaine Pischke6 years ago

When my boys were young I calculated that, after paying for day care, taxes, gas and other work-related expenses, my take-home pay amounted to about $100-200 a month. So for a couple of years there, I was basically working for the insurance. I couldn't quit and stay home because then we would have had to pay another $500-600/month to for our medical coverage, and we could not have done that. It's very disheartening.

Elaya Raja
Elaya Raja6 years ago


Faither Jo H.
Jo Ellen H6 years ago


Arienne d.
Arienne d6 years ago

Nicole G, it's not just the "rich folk" who have au pairs. For some with multiple children, it's by far the most affordable option. I know people with four or five kids... they would pay a grand a week for childcare. Au pairs do light housekeeping and everything pertaining to childcare. So they do the laundry- clothes, sheets, towels, etc. They grocery shop, pack lunches, fix meals, load/unload the dishes. I have limited space, so I put my kids in the same room. It's dependable and it's flexible. Yes, part of my pay check goes to the cost of an au pair, but I get to use my college degree and talk to adults during the day. It's what works for my family and a lot of other families across the US. If my kids get sick, I don't have to miss work, they stay home with the au pair. They get less sick than if they were at day care, too. To me, it's worth every penny.

Michael G.
Michael T6 years ago

Imagine a country where instead of rooting out discrimination, many policy makers are busily blaming women for their disproportionate poverty. If women earned as much as similarly qualified men, poverty in the single-mother households would be cut in half.

Ummmm . . . It’s not Japan.

Michael G.
Michael T6 years ago

Imagine a country where childcare workers, mostly women, typically make about as much as parking lot attendants, and much less than animal trainers. Out of 801 occupations surveyed by the labor department, only 18 have lower median wages than child care workers.
Imagine a country where more than 98 percent of CEO’s at the largest 500 companies are men, as are 95 percent of the top-earning corporate officers. Never mind that companies with a higher share of women in their senior management teams financially outperform companies with lower representation.

Imagine a country where discrimination against women is pervasive from the bottom to the top of the pay scale, and it’s not because women are on the “mommy-track.” In the words of a leading business magazine, “At the same level of management, the typical woman’s pay is lower than her male colleague’s – even when she has the exact same qualifications, works just as many years, relocates just as often, provides the main financial support for her family, takes no time off for personal reasons, and wins, the same number of promotions to comparable jobs.

Michael G.
Michael T6 years ago

Imagine a country where nearly two thirds of women with children under age 6 and more than three-fourths of women with children ages 6-17 are in the labor force, but affordable childcare and after-school programs are scarce. Apparently, kids are expected to have three parents: Two parents with jobs to pay the bills, and another parent to be home in mid-afternoon when school lets out – as well as all summer.

Imagine a country where women working full time earn 76 cents for every dollar men earn. Women don’t pay 76 cents on a man’s dollar for education, rent, food, or childcare. The gender wage gap has closed just 12 cents since 1955, when women earned 65 cents for every dollar earned by men. There’s still another 24 cents to go.

The average woman high school graduate who works full time from ages 25 to 65 will earn about $450,000 less than the average male high school graduate. The gap widens to $900,000 for full-time workers with bachelor’s degrees. “Men with professional degrees may expect to earn almost $2 million more than their female counterparts over their work-life,” says a government report.