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


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

Fig. 1


  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).


  1. Adams, D. (2009). Education for all: A contrasting analysis of preschool policies. International Critical Childhood Policy Studies Journal, 2, 43–59.

  2. Adams, D., & Swadener, B. B. (2000). Early childhood education and teacher development in Kenya: Lessons learned. Child & Youth Care Forum, 29, 385–402.

  3. African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC). (2014). Population and health dynamics in Nairobi’s informal settlements: Report of the Nairobi Cross-sectional Slums Survey (NCSS report). Nairobi, Kenya: APHRC.

  4. Angeles, G., Gadsden, P., Galiani, S., Gertler, P., Herrera, A., Kariger, P., & Seira, E. (2012). The impact of day care on maternal labour supply and child development in Mexico (3ie Grantee final report). Cuernavaca, Mexico: Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública, Centro de Investigación en Evaluación y Enquestas.

  5. Attanasio, O., & Vera-Hernández, M. (2004). Medium-and long run effects of nutrition and child care: Evaluation of a community nursery programme in rural Colombia (Working Paper EWP04/06). London, UK: Centre for the Evaluation of Development Policies, Institute for Fiscal Studies.

  6. Baker, M., Gruber, J., & Milligan, K. (2008). Universal child care, maternal labor supply, and family well-being. Journal of Political Economy, 116, 709–745.

  7. Barros, R., Olinto, P., Lunde, T., & Carvalho, M. (2011, March). The impact of access to free childcare on women’s labor market outcomes: Evidence from a randomized trial in low-income neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro. Paper prepared for the 2011 World Bank Economists’ Forum, Washington, DC.

  8. Belfield, C. (2007). Financing early childhood care and education: An international review (Education for All Global Monitoring report). Paris, France: UNESCO.

  9. Berlinski, S., & Galiani, S. (2007). The effect of a large expansion of pre-primary school facilities on preschool attendance and maternal employment. Labour Economics, 14, 665–680.

  10. Berlinski, S., Galiani, S., & Mc Ewan, P. J. (2011). Preschool and maternal labor market outcomes: Evidence from a regression discontinuity design. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 59, 313–344.

  11. Bick, A. (2016). The quantitative role of child care for female labor force participation and fertility. Journal of the European Economic Association, 14, 639–668.

  12. Bidwell, K., & Watine, L. (2014). Exploring early education problems in peri-urban settings in Africa: Final report. Newhaven, CT: Innovations for Poverty Action.

  13. Blau, D. (2001). The child care problem: An economic analysis. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

  14. Brilli, Y., Del Boca, D., & Pronzato, C. D. (2016). Does child care availability play a role in maternal employment and children’s development? Evidence from Italy. Review of Economics of the Household, 14, 27–51.

  15. Brown, T. W., van Urk, F. C., Waller, R., & Mayo-Wilson, E. (2014). Centre-based day care for children younger than five years of age in low- and middle-income countries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2014(9), 1–52.

  16. Bulatao, R. A., & Lee, R. D. (Eds.). (1983). Determinants of fertility in developing countries, Vol. 1: Supply and demand for children. New York, NY: Academic Press.

  17. Calderon, G. (2012). What is good for the goose is good for the gander: The effects of child care provision in Mexico. Unpublished manuscript, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

  18. Cascio, E. (2009). Maternal labor supply and the introduction of kindergartens into American public schools. Journal of Human Resources, 44, 140–170.

  19. Cassirer, N., & Addati, L. (2007). Expanding women’s employment opportunities: Informal economy workers and the need for childcare. Geneva, Switzerland: ILO.

  20. Castles, F. G. (2003). The world turned upside down: Below replacement fertility, changing preferences and family-friendly public policy in 21 OECD countries. Journal of European Social Policy, 13, 209–227.

  21. Clark, S., De Almada, M., Kabiru, C. W., Muthuri, S., & Wanjohi, M. (2018). Balancing paid work and child care in a slum of Nairobi, Kenya: The case for center-based child care. Journal of Family Studies. Advance online publication.

  22. Clark, S., Kabiru, C. W., Baruah, S., Muthuri, S., & Njeri, M. (2016). Creating better economic opportunities for women in the Nairobi slums through improved child care options: Final report for Wave 1. Unpublished manuscript, McGill University, Montréal, Canada.

  23. Clark, S., Madhavan, S., Cotton, C., Beguy, D., & Kabiru, C. (2017). Who helps single mothers in Nairobi? The role of kin support. Journal of Marriage and Family, 79, 1186–1204.

  24. Deaton, A. (1997). The analysis of household surveys: A microeconometric approach to development policy. Washington, DC: World Bank.

  25. Díaz, M. M., & Rodriguez-Chamussy, L. (2016). Cashing in on education: Women, childcare, and prosperity in Latin America and the Caribbean. Washington, DC: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/World Bank.

  26. DiPrete, T. A., Morgan, P. S., Engelhardt, H., & Pacalova, H. (2003). Do cross-national differences in the costs of children generate cross-national differences in fertility rates? Population Research and Policy Review, 22, 439–477.

  27. Doiron, D., & Kalb, G. (2005). Demands for child care and household labour supply in Australia. Economic Record, 81(254), 215–236.

  28. Du, F., & Dong, X. Y. (2013). Women’s employment and child care choices in urban China during the economic transition. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 62, 131–155.

  29. Filmer, D., & Pritchett, L. (2001). Estimating wealth effects without expenditure data—or tears: An application to educational enrollment in states of India. Demography, 38, 115–132.

  30. Fitzpatrick, M. D. (2012). Revising our thinking about the relationship between maternal labor supply and preschool. Journal of Human Resources, 47, 583–612.

  31. Folbre, N. (2014). The care economy in Africa: Subsistence production and unpaid care. Journal of African Economies, 23(Suppl. 1), i128–i156.

  32. Fortin, P., Godbout, L., & St-Cerny, S. (2012). Impact of Québec’s universal low fee childcare program on female labour force participation, domestic income, and government budgets (Working Paper 2012: 02). Québec, Canada: The Research Chair in Taxation and Public Finance at the University of Sherbrooke.

  33. Foster, G. (2000). The capacity of the extended family safety net for orphans in Africa. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 5, 55–62.

  34. García, J. L., Heckman, J. J., Leaf, D. E., & Prados, M. J. (2016). The life-cycle benefits of an influential early childhood program (HCEO Working Paper Series No. 2016-035). Chicago, IL: Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group.

  35. Gauthier, A. (2007). The impact of family policies on fertility in industrialized countries: A review of the literature. Population Research and Policy Review, 26, 323–346.

  36. Gerland, P., Raftery, A. E., Sevcíková, H., Li, N., Gu, D., Spoorenberg, T., . . . Wilmoth, J. (2014). World population stabilization unlikely this century. Science, 346, 234–237.

  37. Geyer, J., Haan, P., & Wrohlich, K. (2014). The effects of family policy on mothers’ labor supply: Combining evidence from a structural model and a natural experiment (Discussion Paper No. 1366). Berlin, Germany: German Institute for Economic Research.

  38. Githinji, F. W., & Kanga, A. (2011). Early childhood development education in Kenya: A literature review on current issues. International Journal of Current Research, 3(11), 129–136.

  39. Glewwe, P. (2007). Measurement error bias in estimates of income and income growth among the poor: Analytical results and a correction formula. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 56, 163–189.

  40. Gong, X., Breunig, R. V., & King, A. (2010). How responsive is female labour supply to child care costs: New Australian estimates (Discussion Paper No. 5119). Bonn, Germany: Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

  41. Goux, D., & Maurin, E. (2010). Public school availability for two-year olds and mothers' labour supply. Labour Economics, 17, 951–962.

  42. Haeck, C., Lefebvre, P., & Merrigan, P. (2015). Canadian evidence on ten years of universal preschool policies: The good and the bad. Labour Economics, 36, 137–157.

  43. Hank, K., & Kreyenfeld, M. (2003). A multilevel analysis of childcare and women’s fertility decisions in Western Germany. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 584–596.

  44. Havnes, T., & Mogstad, M. (2011). Money for nothing? Universal child care and maternal employment. Journal of Public Economics, 95, 1455–1465.

  45. International Labor Organization (ILO). (2016). Women at work: Trends 2016 (Report). Geneva, Switzerland: ILO.

  46. Jain, M. (2016). Public pre-schooling and maternal labour force participation in rural India. Oxford Development Studies, 44, 246–263.

  47. Kabeer, N. (1999). Resources, agency, achievements: Reflections on the measurement of women’s empowerment. Development and Change, 30, 435–464.

  48. Kalwij, A. (2010). The impact of family policy expenditure on fertility in Western Europe. Demography, 47, 503–519.

  49. Korotayev, A., Zinkina, J., Goldstone, J., & Shulgin, S. (2016). Explaining current fertility dynamics in tropical Africa from an anthropological perspective: A cross-cultural investigation. Cross-Cultural Research, 50, 251–280.

  50. Laszlo, S., Grantham, K., Oskay, E., & Zhang, T. (2017). Grappling with the challenges of measuring women’s economic empowerment (GrOW Research Series, Policy brief). Montréal, Canada: Institute for the Study of International Development, McGill University.

  51. Lefebvre, P., & Merrigan, P. (2008). Child-care policy and the labor supply of mothers with young children: A natural experiment from Canada. Journal of Labor Economics, 26, 519–548.

  52. Lefebvre, P., Merrigan, P., & Verstraete, M. (2009). Dynamic labour supply effects of childcare subsidies: Evidence from a Canadian natural experiment on low-fee universal child care. Labour Economics, 16, 490–502.

  53. Leroy, J. L., Gadsden, P., & Guijarro, M. (2012). The impact of daycare programmes on child health, nutrition and development in developing countries: A systematic review. Journal of Development Effectiveness, 4, 472–496.

  54. Lewbel, A., Dong, D., & Yang, T. T. (2012). Comparing features of convenient estimators for binary choice models with endogenous regressors. Canadian Journal of Economics, 45, 809–829.

  55. Lokshin, M., Glinkaya, E., & Garcia, M. (2000). The effect of early childhood development programs on women’s labor force participation and older children’s schooling in Kenya (Policy Research Report on Gender and Development, Working Paper Series No. 15). Washington, DC: World Bank.

  56. Lundin, D., Mörk, E., & Öckert, B. (2008). How far can reduced childcare prices push female labour supply? Labour Economics, 15, 647–659.

  57. Martinez, S., Naudeau, S., & Pereira, V. (2012). The promise of preschool in Africa: A randomized impact evaluation of early childhood development in rural Mozambique. New Delhi, India: International Initiative for Impact Evaluation.

  58. Murphy, A. (2007). Score tests of normality in bivariate probit models. Economics Letters, 95, 374–379.

  59. Murungi, C. G. (2013). Reasons for low enrolments in early childhood education in Kenya: The parental perspective. International Journal of Education and Research, 1(5), 1–10. Retrieved from

  60. Quisumbing, A. R., Hallman, K., & Ruel, M. T. (2007). Maquiladoras and market mamas: Women’s work and childcare in Guatemala City and Accra. Journal of Development Studies, 43, 420–455.

  61. Rindfuss, R. R., & Brewster, K. L. (1996). Childbearing and fertility. Population and Development Review, 22(Suppl.), 258–289.

  62. Ronsen, M. (2004). Fertility and public policies—Evidence from Norway and Finland. Demographic Research, 10, 143–170.

  63. Rosero, J., & Oosterbeek, H. (2011). Trade-offs between different early childhood interventions: Evidence from Ecuador (Discussion Paper No. 11-102/3). Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Tinbergen Institute.

  64. Samman, E., Presler-Marshall, E., & Jones, N. (2016). Women’s work: Mothers, children and the global childcare crisis. London, UK: Overseas Development Institute.

  65. Taffa, N., Chepngeno, G., & Amuyunzu-Nyamongo, M. (2005). Child morbidity and healthcare utilization in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Journal of Tropical Pediatrics, 51, 279–284.

  66. Todd, P. (2013). How to improve women’s employability and quality of work in developing and transition economies (Working paper). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, Department of Economics.

  67. Tornqvist, A., & Schmitz, C. (2009). Women’s economic empowerment: Scope for Sida’s engagement (Sida Working Paper, December 30). Stockholm: Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

  68. UN Habitat. (2014). State of the world’s cities report. New York, NY: United Nations.

  69. Van den Broeck, G., & Maertens, M. (2015). Female employment reduces fertility in rural Senegal. PLoS One, 10(3), e0122086.

  70. Ware, H. (1977). Women’s work and fertility in Africa. In S. Kupinsky (Ed.), The fertility of working women (pp. 1–34). New York, NY: Praeger.

  71. Wooldridge, J. (2010). Econometric analysis of cross section and panel data. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  72. World Bank. (2011). World Development report 2012: Gender equality and development. Washington, DC: World Bank.

  73. World Bank. (2017). World Bank gender data portal. Washington, DC: World Bank. Retrieved from

Download references


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).

Author information

Correspondence to Shelley Clark.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material


(PDF 342 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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

Download citation


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