Published on Let's Talk Development

Can the law promote provision and uptake of childcare?

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Childcare matters for the economic participation of men and women alike. Parents of young children would not be able to join the labor force without it. However, women have a higher stake in this issue as they carry out the bulk of unpaid care at home. Women spend on average three times longer on unpaid care than men, ranging from 1.5 times longer in North American countries to 6.7 times longer in South Asian. Access to childcare is often a binding constraint that restricts women's decisions on whether to work and in which type of work to engage.

When the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, the importance of childcare for women’s participation in the labor force became more evident than ever before. The widespread closure of schools and care facilities further increased women’s childcare responsibilities at the expense of paid work. In the United States alone, more than one in four women had to suddenly contemplate downshifting their careers or completely leaving the workforce. The pandemic also exposed deep inadequacies in existing childcare systems, including uneven access, poor quality and the need for public finance. Mothers’ struggles to balance work and care responsibilities this past year made clear that gender-inclusive recovery efforts would need to address childcare gaps and inadequacies.

While the global childcare crisis is generating policy momentum, data to inform childcare policy design are sparse.  With new research making a compelling case for the positive impact of childcare on women’s employment, we asked ourselves: can the law play a role in the provision and uptake of childcare services? For more than 10 years, Women, Business and the Law has been measuring laws and regulations that restrict women’s economic inclusion and consistently found that reforms increasing women’s equality of opportunity contribute to higher female labor force participation, more successful economies, and better development outcomes. Could childcare legal frameworks play a similar role?

With this question in mind, Women Business and the Law is collecting new data to better understand how countries can use their legal systems to make childcare available, affordable, and of good quality (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Sample Questions Measuring Legal Frameworks for Childcare Provision

Sample Question Measuring Legal Frameworks for Childcare Provision

Women, Business and the Law will deliver a first-time measure of regulatory frameworks for childcare provision on a global scale and offer new insights on how the law can promote the provision and uptake of childcare services. The new data will be an invaluable tool in the design of public interventions to promote provision and access to childcare services that are affordable and of high quality.

Ultimately, expanding access to childcare is expected to boost not only female labor force participation and child development, but also economic growth, by creating a more abundant and diverse workforce, and offering substantial business and employment opportunities.


Marina Elefante

Private Sector Development Specialist at the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law

Alena Sakhonchik

Private Sector Specialist at Women, Business and the Law, World Bank Group

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