Economists: Almost no positive effect on children’s development from having more than six months of parental leave

In countries offering good childcare services, there is no evidence that the development of children benefits from more than six months of parental leave. On the contrary, especially children from disadvantaged background benefit from childcare at an early age, according to Nabanita Datta Gupta and Jonas Jessen in a new SNS report.

SNS Research Brief 95. Parental Leave vs. Early Childcare 151.6 KB PDF

Swedish children are entitled to receive childcare from the age of one, even though the majority are enrolled in childcare services at a later stage. This is obviously due to the parents being able to go on longer periods of parental leave. In the SNS report Parental Leave vs. Early Childcare, researchers Nabanita Datta Gupta and Jonas Jessen compare the two types of care and how they affect children from different environments.

“In cases where there are no good preschools or similar, an extended period of parental leave is typically beneficial for the development of children. This effect is noticeable in terms of school performance, health measures and even labor market outcomes measured several years after the extended parental leave,” says Nabanita Datta Gupta, professor of economics.

In countries such as Sweden that offer good-quality childcare, however, positive effects are mainly noticeable for the first six months. Parental leave periods longer than that thus require some other form of justification than benefitting the development of children, according to Datta Gupta and Jessen.

There has been significant progress in this field in recent decades as a result of increasing availability large data sets and advanced statistical methods. The results do not indicate that young children would suffer negative consequences from preschool services of the kind seen in Sweden. On the contrary, children from socially disadvantaged homes, who tend to be under-represented in preschools, appear to benefit from early childcare in their development.

“Even though children from affluent families are less affected in terms of their development, attending preschools or similar activities does not have an adverse effect on them,” says Jonas Jessen, postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) in Bonn.

High quality childcare may help increase the social skills of all children while also evening out differences between children, according to the researchers. Interventions in early childhood, which represents a critical phase for the brain, may be particularly beneficial. Over time, this development may also affect school performance, health measures and professional outcomes.

These causal relationships may offer guidance on how to use public funds in family policies, argue Datta Gupta and Jessen.

about the authors

Nabanita Datta Gupta is a professor of economics at Aarhus University.

Jonas Jessen is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) in Bonn.