The Economic Role of Paid Child Care in the U.S. Part 2: Labor Force Participation

May 19, 2022
  • Description

This is the second report of a four-part series related to use of paid child care in the U.S. and the labor force participation of mothers. The first report focused on the use of paid child care, what percent of household income is spent on child care for those families who pay for it, and what characteristics are associated with families who pay for child care. This second report examines labor force participation in greater detail to better understand labor force attachment for mothers with children over time, as well as trends across gender, race, marital status, and women with and without children, to gain a better understanding of labor force trends in which mothers with children are a subset.

The ability of many working parents to participate in the labor force is highly dependent upon access to paid child care. Paid care has historically been used by working parents for approximately 20% of children in the U.S. under the age of 15.

The use of paid care is most closely associated with the labor force participation of mothers. Mothers traditionally perform most of the primary care duties for children, especially for younger children. Hence, the use of paid child care is closely tied to the decision of mothers to enter or exit the labor force. At the state level, the share of children in paid child care is highly correlated with the share of mothers participating in the labor force.

This report examines both long- and short-run trends in U.S. labor force participation. The two primary measures of labor force participation are defined and discussed, and key trends are examined. Many of the key labor force trends examined are related to the role of women in the labor force, particularly women with children. The influence of sex, race, income, and marital status on the participation rate is also examined, along with the variation in participation rates across the states.