2019 report: Childcare woes and lack of flexibility have moms feeling stuck

Winnie and The Mom Project asked moms how much child care considerations in general influenced their decision to be (or not be) in the paid workforce and which factors mattered most.

Survey designed and results collated by Pam Cohen, Principal Researcher and Data Scientist at The Mom Project.

What we’ve got

  • Most moms in our study (89%) are between the ages of 29-44.   The overwhelming majority are married (86%), and about half (50%) have 1 child, while 36% have 2.  14% have 3 or more children. Over 88% have a bachelors degree or higher.

  • 79% are working outside of the home.  Of this, 58% are employed full time and 21% are employed part time.  Of the 21% who are not working, 12% are looking for some type of paid work, and 9% are not.

  • For the aggregate, the optimal paid work week is split between 20-30 and 30-40 hours (31% each).  And for this group, salary and job flexibility are rated to be of equal importance by about half (50%), followed by job flexibility being somewhat more important (27%) and much more important (17%).  Only 9% considered salary to be either much more or slightly more important.

  • Full listing of sociodemographics follows this report

Childcare Decisions and Work

We asked moms how much childcare considerations in general influenced their decision to be (or not be) in the paid workforce.  In the aggregate group, about 81% overall said it made a relatively strong to critical difference. 73% said it made a very strong to critical difference.  Over half of these moms (52%) stated that it extremely influenced their decisions, and about 21% gave it said that this consideration strongly influenced their work decision).  
Looking at childcare considerations by work type, those who are working part-time seem to have considered childcare decisions overall to be really critical (89%).  For those who weren’t working but were looking, childcare considerations are considered very critical (81%). This was followed by those mom who weren’t working but and we not looking (67%)   About 65% of moms working full time considered this a critical impactor on their choice in work.

We then looked at how much various factors regarding childcare had impacted moms’ decisions to accept or not accept certain types of work, or to work t all.  

Three factors (in order) emerge as the top considerations:
  1. Family friendly (flexible) schedule
  2. Desire to be at home with children as much as possible
  3. Overall cost of childcare making paid work not (as) worthwhile

Consideration #1: Flexibility

For the aggregate, the lack of a family friendly (flexible) schedule is the #1 clear and extremely strong influencer on decision making with regard to work decisions for moms (65%).   

Looking by work type, lack of family friendly work schedule considerations are significantly strong influencers for moms who are working part time (81%) and those who are not currently working but are looking (75%).   (About 61% of moms working full time have this as an extremely strong influencer, and about 47% of moms who are not working rated this as a high).

While some say that they had to work no matter what, most just wish flexibility was better:  “Only consideration is that they pay me. Can't afford to be picky about childcare but I do wish family leave and flex schedules we're better”

Moms say:  

  • Work flexibility, remote work days was the biggest driving force. I did not return to work until I found a flexible job. I was a stay at home mom for 2 years trying to find flexibility. I refuse to not be there for my children missing the precious life moments that happen”.
  • I work 3/4 time but should earn more/have more advancement opportunities except for commuting time and lack of flexibility in hour shifts/some remote hours at most jobs”.
  • I can't stress the lack of family friendly work schedules enough
  • “Transportation (lack of) from care to school/activities, etc”.
  • “I want more flexibility in my work schedule. Working a traditional 9-5 wasn’t accommodating, but then I wasn’t working a traditional 9-5 either. I felt that I was working more than spending time with my young child”.
  • “Lack of workplace flexibility has been the biggest retractor. My child goes to daycare 2x/week because I do think the socialization is important--but it's an expense for us on one income”.
  • “I took a full time with a much more flexible schedule to be with my child more and if I needed to be (she’s sick, etc.)”

Others describe more than just workplace flexibility as being an issue, such as commute time and travel, and, of course, acceptance 

Moms say:  

  • In addition to flexibility, I consider greatly the type of work environment and the expectations around work: i.e. is there a travel component? Am I expected to be working from home in the evenings and through the weekend to meet the demands of my boss?
  • Commute time which is why I am WFH
  • Choosing a job with flexible & work from home hours and acceptance
  • Variable of commute time (3.5 hours/day) taking addition time away from my daughter. The trade off? It’s my dream job and a wonderful long term career move”.
  • “How to work around sick days and days off daycare”.
  • Amount of travel required on job”.

And in some positions, flexibility just doesn’t seem possible

Moms say:

  • Balancing work and home life - full time job would bring on a lot of extra stress and part time does not seem doable in my field / corporate philanthropy (all or nothing seems to be the case with most jobs - I find it more fulfilling to use my skills volunteering since it's on my own schedule)”

And then there’s flexibility in childcare

Moms say:

  • “Finding childcare on a Saturday difficult because most child care provisions do not open on weekends”
  • “Being available (flexible schedule) when kids' providers are unavailable (holidays, for example) and/or sick child”
  • “Daycare hours of operation. Daycare not opening early enough or no avail childcare in the evening”
  • Flexible, part-time childcare is harder to find than full-time coverage, and this is very challenging.”
  • “Not possible to have child in daycare just for 1 or max 2 days”.
  • “Availability in a timely manner”.

Consideration #2: Desire to be at home with children

For the aggregate, the desire to be at home with children as much as possible is the next strongest influencer on decision making with regard to work decisions for moms (57%)  

Moms say:
  • “10 weeks is not enough leave. Needs to be at least 6 months”.

Consideration #3: Cost of child care

The third highest influencer, though somewhat lower, was that the cost of childcare made it not worthwhile to work (53%)

53% of the aggregate said childcare costs greatly influenced their decisions regarding work.  

Moms say:

  • “Our family wouldn’t save/make more money by me working due to child care costs, transportation”
  • “My husband travels a fair amount for work so I could not take a job with even 10% travel as this would mean having a nanny which is too costly and I would see my kids less”.
  • “I HAVE to work to afford healthcare and childcare, though I would much rather be home with the child we prayed and tried for so hard. There are lots of options for childcare around us but little to zero availability, so we had to settle for a mediocre establishment. I am not happy about the circumstances of our situation but feel there is nothing I can do and resent it”.
  • “Our family wouldn’t save/make more money by me working due to child care costs, transportation”
  • “..necessity to work - but lack of opportunity to make it economically feasible”.
  • “Very frustrated with the cost of childcare for the amarican family. 5000 tax credit doesn’t place a dent into the overall cost (think 35,000). I think we work out the benefit being 1,000 a month, most of this goes towards the things I can’t do because I’m not home, food prep, dry cleaning. Very frustrated”.
  • “I wanted to both work and be at home with a reasonable balance. Most part-time jobs do not pay enough to cover part-time childcare so I had to wait until kids were in school and have family help 1 day a week so I can work 15hrs @ $24/hr. If I worked my same job f/t, I would make $40/hr”.

Some moms have stressed that not working is not an option for them, either because they are single, need the dual income, or because their spouses do not contribute

Moms say:
  • I am a single mom with full custody - not working full time was not an option
  • As a single parent, I have no choice but to work”.
  • My husband has his own business which required him to work long hours and was not able to contribute to child care duties during the week”.
  • The need to have two incomes in my family greatly influenced my decision despite some of the factors above”.
  • At the time I wanted to stay home with my children I made too much at work to leave my job. I'm primary contributor in our household”.

Other considerations

Not comfortable leaving them with someone else

Moms say:

  • “I wasn’t comfortable with the child care we could get. We had one less than a mile away, but 12 month olds regularly stole toys or pacifiers from my then-5 month old, and the caretakers didn’t notice.”
  • Challenge to build trust with child care provider that you do not personally know.”
  • Don't trust strangers with children that are not yet able to speak”.
  • “I couldn’t put my faith in a stranger to love and raise my child as well as I could”.

Children should be with me/family

  • “I just believe children should be in the care of someone who loves them”.
  • “If I chose to have children, I should be the one to raise them. That responsibility should not be given to someone else”.
  • “My husband works at home and can greatly help with morning and afternoon routines
  • Waiting lists in my area are 1-2 years. I don’t feel comfortable with just taking my one year old to a home daycare”.
  • “Lack of available, quality childcare that fits a 2 career household's work schedule (2 MBAs with long work hours)”.
  • “Accreditation. Staff problem owner of daycare too driven by profit not kids”.

Still others spoke to different needs, preferences and concerns

Moms say:

  • “Help at home! Our nanny loaded and unloaded the dishwasher, did the kids' laundry ... we recently lost her and it's been so much more work!”
  • “Spouse feeling more comfortable working full time than me”.
  • “Trustworthyness of childcare. We went with a live in au pair for trustworthiness, flexibility, and affordability. I am also in a job where I mostly work from home so as to have flexibility”.

Some stuck with old jobs and worked having children into those

Moms say:

  • Have stayed in current job since child was born to avoid having to rebuild seniority/ flexibility privileges if I were to change jobs”.
  • “None of these really apply to me, as I have the same job now that i had before kids. It allows me flexibility & pays enough to easily cover childcare”.

And some moms, as primary breadwinners, really didn’t feel it was an option not to work

Moms say:
  • “We also considered my husband to stay at home considering I am the breadwinner.”
  • I am the primary bread earner for the household. We can’t afford for me not to work.

Complete Sociodemographics

Sample size = 546

79% of moms in study are employed. 

58% are employed full time,
21% part time,
12% are looking for paid work, and
9% are not looking. 

Number of children:
50%   1
36%   2
10%   3
  4%   4

Ages of children (check all):
55%   0-2
48%   2-4
26%   4-8
11%   8-12
6%  12-18
2%   18+

Level of education:
Over 88% have a bachelors degree or higher

43% Bachelors degree
38% Masters degree
7% PhD/MD/JD
6% Some university; no degree
2% High school
2% Foundation degree
1.5% Less than secondary degree

Respondent Age:

89% are between 25-44

53%  35-44
36% 25-34
6%  45-54
2% 18-24
1% 55-64
<1% >65

Relationship Status:

86% Married
4%  Single/Cohabitating
4%  Single
2%  Divorced
2%  Separated
1%  Widowed

Posted by Anne Halsall

Anne Halsall is the Chief Product Officer (CPO) and co-founder of Winnie. Anne is a product designer & developer with a background in knowledge systems & consumer technology. She has two boys and resides in San Francisco.

Posted in Announcements ∙ Updated April 2019

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