Availability and Uptake of (in)Formal Childcare in Belgium

Karel Neels, University of Antwerp
Naomi Biegel, University of Antwerp

The demand for formal and informal childcare arrangements has been associated with a variety of factors related to both individual and household characteristics such as age, household composition, education and labour market position of both partners. The uptake of (in)formal arrangements also depends on supply-side characteristics of both formal arrangements (cost, availability, and quality of local childcare arrangements) and informal arrangements (presence and proximity of close kin, health status of potential caregivers, as well as educational level and labour market position of potential caregivers).

The aim of the present paper is to investigate the uptake of both formal and informal childcare, while controlling for availability of both formal childcare arrangements at the municipality level and the availability of grandparents. This allows us to gain better insight into the variety of childcare strategies employed by parents and how these depend upon both demand-side characteristics and supply-side characteristics of formal and informal childcare.

Using linked Belgian census data from the 1991 and 2001 censuses, this papers follows young adults as they move out of the parental household and set up independent households. This linkage allows us to model uptake of (in)formal childcare arrangements in 2001, controlling for individual and household-level characteristics, as well as proximity and characteristics of grandparents. Additionally we include contextual data on availability and characteristics of formal childcare arrangements at the municipality level.

While the existing empirical literature on uptake of informal childcare arrangements acknowledges the importance of the availability of formal childcare services and vice versa, it has typically not been able to simultaneously control for both demand-side characteristics and supply-side characteristics of formal and informal childcare.


Literature

The uptake of informal care has been studied within the framework of intergenerational solidarity, whereby the provision of childcare depends upon the opportunity structures of grandparents and the uptake upon the need structures of grandparents (Szydlik, 2012). This interaction takes place within the broader cultural-contextual structure, where the availability of formal childcare services acts as an important factor.

The provision of informal care has been associated with socio-demographic determinants such as self-perceived health, age, marital status, education and employment of grandparents, number of grandchildren, but also distance to the receiving family (Igel & Szydlik, 2011). Labour market characteristics are also important, such as labour market participation among mothers and grandmothers and the number of part-time jobs (Bordone, Arpino, & Aassve, 2016; Di Gessa, Glaser, Price, Ribe, & Tinker, 2016). Public expenditure on childcare at country level explains differences in occurrence and intensity of grandparental childcare provision (Igel & Szydlik, 2011). Little is known on the uptake of (in)formal childcare by immigrants, but some research indicates that the use of informal childcare has a positive impact on the labour supply of the mother (Dimova & Wolff, 2008).

Belgium has a long history of formal childcare provision and high rates of uptake, but has been characterised by a strong socio-economic gradient in uptake of both formal and informal care (Ghysels & Van Lancker, 2009; Lancker & Ghysels, 2012). Ghysels and Van Lancker (2009) found some indications that informal care-providers are less available to lower income families.

Data and methods

We make use of Belgian census data, by linking data from the 1991 and 2001 censuses, we are able to identify the household grid in 1991 of young adults who have set up independent households by 2001. We can therefore identify grandparents in the 2001 census and include grandparental characteristics such as proximity, work status and health or disability status. Contextual data from « Kind & Gezin » and « Office de la Naissance et de l’Enfance » give us information on the local childcare coverage at municipality level, including the number of subsidized places.

The 2001 census contains information on the number of children in the household and uptake of different childcare facilities, such as kindergarten, crèche, daymother, other household members, or friends or acquaintances. Uptake of (in)formal childcare on the 1st of October 2001 was modelled by means of logistic regression. We included age of the mother, age of the child, educational level of the mother, local employment opportunities, childcare coverage at municipality level, employment status of the grandparents, self-rated health of the grandparents and limitations in daily activities of the grandparents. With respect to labour market opportunities, we considered the opportunities of childless women with same age (quadratic effect), level of education, migration status and by region.

Results

Preliminary results indicate that there is a strong educational gradient in the uptake of formal care, taking into account age of the mother and migration background. The educational gradient remains after controlling for local childcare coverage and working status of the maternal grandmother. A higher local childcare coverage increased the odds of using formal care, while local employment opportunities for women did not seem to have any significant effect. Having a grandmother who is employed significantly increases the odds of using formal childcare. Mothers with a migration background were significantly less likely to use formal care as compared to Belgian mothers.

When we looked at informal childcare, the results are slightly different. Compared to mothers with no or only primary education, mothers with a degree of lower secondary or higher secondary education where more likely to use informal care. Mothers with a degree in short tertiary education were less likely to use informal care and mothers with a degree of long tertiary education were much less likely to use informal care. More local employment opportunities for women significantly increased the odds of using informal care. Grandmothers who were employed significantly decrease the odds of using informal care while having a grandmother in good health increased the odds of using informal care. All women with a migration background where less likely to use informal care, but this was especially the case among Turkish and Moroccan women.

Limitations and future work

In these first analyses we have only considered work and health status of the maternal grandmother, future analyses should include the wider kin network, as well as regional proximity. The supply of informal care at household level should also be considered, as co-residence of parents (in law) may be relevant as well, especially for migrant populations. We have only considered childcare coverage, but intent to include type of formal care (crèche/daymother) and number of subsidized places in future analyses.

Presented in Session 1114: Families and Households