Discussion Paper No. 10-03


Family and work questions over the life course can be analyzed as constrained choices within structural and normative contexts. We focus here on the preferences and opportunity costs associated with child care, using data from the 2006 General Social Survey on Family. We start with the extent of usage of various forms of child care, for respondents with children aged 0-4, along with the reasons for the choice and the preferences for alternate forms of care. Among respondents with children under five years of age, 48% are currently using regular child care of some kind, and 79% of persons using child care are using their preferred form of care. We then consider the paid work status of parents with children aged 0-4, in comparison to other respondents, including their preference to work more or fewer hours. When there are young children present, women on average have lower employment rates, and lower average hours of work, along with a higher proportion who would prefer to work fewer hours. The opposite applies to men, who have their highest employment rates when there are young children at home. These patterns can be interpreted as opportunity costs of child care for women, but they may also represent preferences for given forms of care and for the amount of paid work to be done by women and men when they are parenting young children. The differences between Quebec and the rest of Canada suggest that a greater availability of publicly funded child care prompts a higher usage of child care, and reduces the opportunity costs of child care to women’s work.