Home I'm Back At Work Why childcare costs should sit with both parents
Why childcare costs should sit with both parents

Why childcare costs should sit with both parents

So this is a little—or maybe big!—bugbear of mine. And it’s right up there with people commenting on dads looking after their own children as ‘babysitting’! Infuriating on so many levels, I know.

Here’s another one that just doesn’t add up. Some women I’ve met lately are making decisions about going back to paid work based on how their salary alone stacks up compared to the costs of having their kids in care. And this cost-benefit analysis is only further exacerbated when they are looking at having two or more children in care.

Here’s a simplified example of a hypothetical family to show what I mean. Let’s assume that you have a couple who both have take home salaries of $60,000 a year each (total household income of $120,000). After having two children, the mother wants to return to work three days a week so her take home salary would drop to $36,000 (assuming the same tax rate). The out of pocket cost (after the Child Care Rebate) of having two children in childcare three days a week is $25,340 (assuming $130 per day per child). If comparing her salary and the cost of childcare in isolation, she’s returning to work for $10,660 a year. Many parents facing this similar decision would make the call that it just isn’t worth it. Surely the costs of childcare should be evaluated against the overall household income of both parents though? And the opportunity of the mother returning to paid work would look a lot more attractive?

So I get it, the cost of childcare is sooooo expensive. It really is crazy how much it costs. And I really do cringe every year when I receive that letter saying, your childcare costs are going to increase by $20 a week per child. You are not alone in thinking that the cost of childcare is increasing at a rapid rate. In fact, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics from 2012 to 2017 wages increased by 12.6 per cent while childcare costs increased by 44.3 per cent. 

But what I find incredible is that idea that women should be the ones responsible for taking on the full burden of childcare costs. Their decision to work or not work should not hinge solely on their earning capacity. Surely there were two people involved in bring a little person into this world, so why should the cost of care just be evaluated against the mother’s salary? It just doesn’t make sense at all.

I’m a huge fan of journalist Annabel Crabb, and in her most recent book ‘The Wife Drought’, she raises some really great points about the short-term ‘cost’ evaluation that often occurs in households. Writes Annabel,

“A woman who takes leave from work to have a baby and then elects not to work at all gives up more than the ticket value of her immediate salary she would have recovered on her return. She gives up her capacity to win further advancement. She gives up the professional relationships and networks that might otherwise have yielded opportunities for promotion. The salary foregone is far, far greater than the figure punched in to the household calculation when the decision is made.”

Hear, hear. We could not agree more.

The bottom line is that women’s advancement in the workplace can be held back by short term trade-offs. We need to better support women’s return to paid work and this is just one area where women are unfairly penalised. Equating childcare costs to the value of their salary alone just doesn’t make sense. The longer-term career opportunities for women who return far outweigh the immediate household costs.

Written by Kate Pollard, Co-founder of Circle In.

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