After having lived in Scandinavia for the last few years, I had come to take for granted that child-care was free. Yes, you heard me. FREE. Oh, sorry, technically you pay 200 bucks a month for childcare– yes, that’s right – *a month* (not much more than you would pay for a *day* of child-care in Australia). But, the government also gives everyone 200 dollars a month in child welfare payments, regardless of income, so you end up being zero bucks outta pocket. Now, let’s compare that to Australia. Here, you would pay around 160 dollars a day in child-care fees for a child under 18 months of age (in Sydney, at least). If you work 5 days a week, that’s going to cost you around 34 K a year (after the 7,500 dollar rebate). Add to this the fact that women earn less than men and you get what’s called a structural barrier: women are going to be less inclined to work full-time because it’s simply not financially worth it.
Bear with me as I take you through the basic mathematics of if. Let’s pretend I earn 70K a year (the average female salary in Australia). Let’s pretend I am married to a man who earns 80K a year (which is the average male salary in Australia) and we have one child who is 12 months old, and about to start day-care (please excuse the stereotypical heteronormative example).
If I work 3 days a week, I get around 36K per annum after tax, which means I get to take home around 700 bucks a week. I have to put my kid in child-care 3 days a week, which costs me 17K a year. So after tax, and after I have paid for my child-care, I take home 19K a year, or 365 dollars a week.
If work 5 days a week, I get around 54K per annum after tax, which means I get to take home around 1030 bucks a week. I have to put my kid in child-care 5 days a week, which costs me 34K a year. So after tax, and after I have paid for my child-care, I take home 20K a year, or 385 dollars a week.
What do I do? Hmmm. If I work 3 days I earn 365 dollars, and if I work 5 days I earn 385 dollars. Do I work those extra two days a week for a total increased take-home income of 20 dollars (which, works out at 1.25 dollars an hour)? Probably not. Sure, there are other benefits to working 5 days a week: career progression, opportunities for promotion, or the fact that you might prefer being at work to being at home, and would gladly do the former for free if it meant getting out of the house. But research shows that I’m probably not likely to do that. In all likelihood, I will choose to work 3 days a week and stay at home those other two days a week with my child, for both financial reasons, and other family reasons. And statistically it is overwhelmingly mum who drops back her work, and not dad (although, there wonderful exceptions to this trend!), for financial reasons, as well as due to social and cultural norms.
Why should the costs of child-care be a factor in how, if and when I choose to go back to work? It shouldn’t. Debates in Australia that focus on levels of child-care rebates and new means-testing for rebates miss the point entirely: child-care should simply be free. Granted, even if child-care were free, some women may not want to work full-time. They may want to stay home full-time or only work part-time. But that’s not really the issue, is it? The problem is that child-care costs mean that women aren’t given any real opportunity to choose.
*ActiveMumma is a pseudonym for an otherwise ordinary person who has daily existential struggles with the responsibilities of parenthood and who has the occasional overwhelming urge to run away (with a good book, or at the very least the latest season of KUWTK) and never return. But, of course, she loves her adorable and perfect little angels way too much to ever abandon them, at least on any long-term basis.