Day care centre closures due to COVID-19 and parental time use in Germany
The Corona-pandemic has forced schools and day care centres to close and—despite some careful re-openings currently taking place—it will likely be months until the majority of day care centres will be in full operation again. These closures come with drastic consequences for families, as parents often have to combine the unexpected increase in child care with other obligations such as paid work and housework.
We ask: what are the likely effects of such closures on parental time allocations? Data on the currently unfolding situation are still hard to come by. In Jessen et al. (2020) we use time diary data from 2012-13 to compare the time allocations of parents whose youngest child is not enrolled in day care to the time allocations of parents whose youngest child is enrolled. If decisions on early childcare and household responsibilities follow comparable mechanisms in the current situation and under normal conditions, these comparisons shed light on the effects of the current pandemic.
The diary data record activities of adult household members over three survey days in ten-minute slots. We restrict our sample to families with one child under ten years. Our analysis focuses on weekdays, where closures of day-care centres and parental time constraints are most likely to be felt.
In our analyses we focus on parenting activities, which we divide into the most basic form of the child being present (time with child) and dedicated child care activities. Non-usage of day care strongly increases the time spent with children (+36% for mothers, +9% for fathers), but the effects for child care activities are smaller (+29%, - 5%, respectively). As such, the share of parental interactions during time spent with a child are reduced, which may have developmental effects for the children. In further analyses we also show that housework and combining time with child and housework are expected to increase.
The effects on paid work are less clear-cut, as the decision to participate in the labour market is perhaps less likely to be impacted by what is perceived to be temporary changes in child care availability. What we do find is that non-usage of day care corresponds to large reductions in paid work and increases in housework for mothers, but only very small differences for fathers. This means that increased child care obligations as a result of day care closures are likely to fall on mothers, potentially exacerbating gender inequality. Policy responses and discussions about re-openings ought to consider impacts of changed parental time allocation on child development, societal inequality, family wellbeing and gender inequality – not only in the short run but also in the long run.
Jonas Jessen, Sevrin Waights und C. Katharina Spieß (2020). Geschlossene Kitas: Mütter tragen mit Blick auf Zeiteinteilung vermutlich die Hauptlast, DIW Aktuell 34