Jane Galt [*] has some sobering thoughts on the economics of child care and how they interact with the career patterns of well-educated women.
My only thought about how to handle the problem (speaking, I must confess, as a bachelor, though I’m still hoping) is that it seems like a good candidate for a co-operative effort. If ten families with, let’s say, an average of 1.5 two-to-nine-year-olds each, formed a co-op, with each family delivering one person-day of effort per week, and the group hired one full-time professional child-care provider, then you’d have three grown-ups (the pro plus two parents) each day to handle fifteen kids. That would be a long, tiring day, but it wouldn’t be impossible. Most professional-class jobs can tolerate a workday off every two weeks, and the per-child financial cost would be manageable on two professional-class salaries.
Jane doesn’t address how to handle the problem further down the SES ladder, but it’s pretty obvious there’s going to have to be some public-sector money involved. I, for one, see no conceivable objection to the idea that those of us who aren’t contributing personally to carrying on the species and transmitting the culture to the next generation ought to contribute financially to those who are.
Update Readers with experience point out the complexities of the scheme sketched above: continuity in a one-employee firm, decision-making among parents perhaps disinclined to defer to one another, and licensing and liability. All fair enough. My point was merely that part of the answer to Jane’s basic problem — that highly-educated people don’t, and shouldn’t, want to delegate an important part of the upbringing of their children to less-highly-educated employees — is to figure out ways to get more parental labor into the mix without trapping the women at home.
Kieran Healy, writing at Crooked Timber, points out the larger social context of work and gender roles in which these choices are made. [*]