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The Impact of Childcare on Poor Urban Women’s Economic Empowerment in Africa

Abstract

Despite evidence from other regions, researchers and policy-makers remain skeptical that women’s disproportionate childcare responsibilities act as a significant barrier to women’s economic empowerment in Africa. This randomized control trial study in an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, demonstrates that limited access to affordable early childcare inhibits poor urban women’s participation in paid work. Women who were offered vouchers for subsidized early childcare were, on average, 8.5 percentage points more likely to be employed than those who were not given vouchers. Most of these employment gains were realized by married mothers. Single mothers, in contrast, benefited by significantly reducing the time spent working without any loss to their earnings by shifting to jobs with more regular hours. The effects on other measures of women’s economic empowerment were mixed. With the exception of children’s health care, access to subsidized daycare did not increase women’s participation in other important household decisions. In addition, contrary to concerns that reducing the costs of childcare may elevate women’s desire for more children, we find no effect on women’s fertility intentions. These findings demonstrate that the impact of subsidized childcare differs by marital status and across outcomes. Nonetheless, in poor urban Africa, as elsewhere, failure to address women’s childcare needs undermines efforts to promote women’s economic empowerment.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    We use the terms ECC centers, daycares, and childcare centers interchangeably.

  2. 2.

    Children who were age 4 at the time of the baseline survey were included as long as they were under age 4 at the time of enumeration.

  3. 3.

    Mothers already using an eligible daycare were given vouchers for that center, resulting in randomization at the level of the daycare rather than individual.

  4. 4.

    Five mothers whose eligible child died before endline were reinterviewed and retained in our analyses. Removing these mothers has no appreciable effect on our results.

  5. 5.

    The intervention was deliberately extended two to four months beyond the endline survey to minimize the effect of mothers’ anticipating the end of the daycare subsidies.

  6. 6.

    The analyses presented deviate from the pre-analysis plan in two important respects. First, we do not show our results for the impact of subsidized childcare on total household income because these are similar to those for maternal income. Second, we do not present heterogeneity analyses for migrant mothers because there are no significant differences by migration status.

  7. 7.

    Bivariate probit models assume that the error terms in both the first- and second-stage equations are jointly normal. According to Murphy’s score test, this assumption was not violated (Murphy 2007).

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Acknowledgments

This work was carried out with financial support under the Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) initiative. GrOW is a multi-funder partnership with the UK Government Department for International Development, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the International Development Research Centre, Canada. Valuable research assistance was provided by Jan Cooper, Madeleine Henderson, and Natalie Simeu at McGill University. Milka Wanjohi, APHRC, contributed expert field support and management. The Nairobi Urban Health and Demographic Surveillance System has received support from a number of donors, including the Rockefeller Foundation (United States), the Wellcome Trust (UK), the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (United States), Comic Relief (UK), the Swedish International Development Cooperation (SIDA), and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (United States). Writing time for coauthors from the African Population and Health Research Center was partially covered with a general support grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (Grant 2015-2530).

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Correspondence to Shelley Clark.

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Clark, S., Kabiru, C.W., Laszlo, S. et al. The Impact of Childcare on Poor Urban Women’s Economic Empowerment in Africa. Demography 56, 1247–1272 (2019) doi:10.1007/s13524-019-00793-3

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Keywords

  • Childcare
  • Women’s economic empowerment
  • Employment
  • Daycares
  • Sub-Saharan Africa