On a regular basis, there are calls for the Irish State to invest more in day-care so that parents can afford to go out to work. The underlying assumption all the time is that this is something most parents want. This is a highly dubious proposition.
In 2013, The Iona Institute commissioned an opinion poll to find out how people would like to see children under the age of five cared for during the working day. Last year we ran the same question. (In both cases, the poll was conducted by Amarach Research). The results in both years were almost identical.
They were as follows (2020 first, and 2013 findings in brackets):
One parent stays at home: 48pc (49pc)
Minded by another family member: 26pc (27pc)
A day-care centre: 16pc (17pc)
Other: 2pc (0pc)
Don’t know: 8pc (6pc).
There is some variation by age and sex, but not much. Men and women are as likely as one another to say the child should be looked after by a parent at home, while men are somewhat more likely to prefer day-care (19pc vs 13pc).
Women are slightly more in favour of the child being looked after by another family member (29pc vs 22pc).
Those aged between 18 and 34 (who are mainly childless) are somewhat less likely to want one parent to stay at home, than those aged 35 to 54 (41pc vs 50pc).
Given that less than one in five people want children aged under five placed in day-care during working hours, why do politicians seem to pretend it is something almost everyone wants?
On the same issue, one of the world’s leading experts on day-care, Noble prize-winner, Professor James Heckman, who is an advocate of day-care for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, still maintains that for children, the family remains the most important thing.
In a new interview with the American Enterprise Institute, he says that the best day-care ‘turns on’ the parents, and gets them more engaged, especially the mother, because often mothers are raising children on their own these days.
He also points out the connection between single-parent households and poverty: “What we really have come to understand is that some of the major growth of inequality has nothing just to do … with hourly wage rates at the factory; it also has to do with the change in family structure in the larger society: more single-parent families.”
This is the kind of thing that is almost never said in Ireland. We do hear that single-parent families are more likely to be poor, but not that the rise in single-parent families is a driver of poverty in itself.
Perhaps that is because we would then have to move on to the conclusion, namely that we should do a lot more to encourage the formation of two-parent families with an engaged mother, and an engaged father.