Families and children

Improved childcare policies needed to achieve better work/life balance, says OECD


29/11/2007 - Getting family-friendly policies right will help reduce poverty, promote child development, enhance equity between men and women and stem the fall in birth-rates, according to a new OECD report.

Babies and Bosses, Reconciling Work and Family Life compares the different approaches that the 30 OECD countries take to help parents balance their work and family commitments.

Denmark and Iceland have the most effective public policies and workplace practices that promote a healthy work and family balance, the report finds. Finland, France, Norway and Sweden also perform well. English-speaking countries generally do well in some respects, but have high rates of child poverty, mainly because fewer lone parents work in these countries.  Germany, Korea, and the Slovak Republic do poorly in most areas covered.

The report analyses tax and benefit policies, parental-leave arrangements, childcare, out-of-school-hours care, and workplace practices, such as access to part-time and flexible working hours, across the 30 OECD countries. The findings are then compared with key indicators, such as the level of child poverty, the gender pay gap and the birth rate (see Table 1).

While there is no “one-size fits all” policy recipe, the following elements can contribute to an effective public spending and policy development strategy:

  • Giving parents money on condition that one of them is not working but caring for children sounds sensible but is often counter-productive. It destroys incentives to work and leads employers to assume that women will stay at home, so they stop hiring women and stop investing in their careers.
  • Financial incentives to work are important. Tax/benefit systems should be designed to give both parents strong financial incentives to work.
  • Single parents should be obliged to look for work and given the quality childcare support to ensure that they can. 
  • Many countries could get better value for money from their spending on childcare support. Out-of-school-hours care for older children, for example, is relatively cheap to offer and can make a big impact on the ability of both parents to work.
  • Parental leave works best when it is short but well-paid.  To promote gender equity and greater paternal involvement in child rearing, some part of the leave should be shared by the parents (rather than as now, when nearly all leave is taken by mothers).
  • Workplaces need to be more family-friendly. Part-time working, flexible hours and the ability to take leave to care for sick children can all make a big difference to parents seeking to reconcile work and family life. 

See a selection of tables and graphs  and country highlights for AustraliaGermanyItalyJapanKorea  and the United Kingdom.

Journalists can obtain a copy of Babies and Bosses: Reconciling Work and Family Life – A synthesis of findings for OECD countries by contacting the OECD's Media Relations Division (tel.+ 33 1 45 24 97 00).

For further information, please contact Willem Adema (tel. + 33 1 45 24 15 57) or Mark Pearson (tel. + 33 1 45 24 92 69), OECD’s Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs.

See the previous Babies and Bosses reviews of policies to promote work and family reconciliation for Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands (Vol. 1); Austria, Ireland and Japan (Vol. 2); New Zealand, Portugal and Switzerland (Vol 3.); and, Canada, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom (Vol. 4).



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