There will be a time in my life where I won’t have to worry about day cares anymore. That time will be enormously sad, but I will still find a way to rejoice, because it will be the end of the Day Care Slavery. You hear about the surging cost of college, you hear about the gender gap. But you don’t hear as much about the Day Care Slavery.
If you are planning to start a family my best advice is to start looking at day cares before even trying, and calling your top picks the moment you find out you are expecting, before you call anyone else. A typical wait time for a spot in a day care is… two years! (This reminds me of a great scene in an Italian comedy film — Fantozzi, probably not well known outside of Italy — where Fantozzi bribes a doctor to get a spot in the hospital for his daugther’s abortion. The doctor agrees and says it will take two years for the spot. At which Fantozzi replies that gestation lasts only nine months. “But then your case is desperate!” says the doctor.)
Think of a family which is relocating. The hassle of moving pales compared to these wait lists.
Sure, there are other options with a faster turnaround. They are generally incredibly worse. There is also pretty substantive research that quality day cares has a disproportionate effect on life-long “success”. (Success is measured according to typical indicators, whence the quotes.) A quick search pointed me to many interesting papers that back this up. The keyword to look for is “early childhood education”. I’ll just give a few meta-references (that is, popular-press articles that summarize the research findings):
Long-Term Effects of Early Childhood Programs on Cognitive and School Outcomes, Preschool education boosts children’s academic success, research finds, Preschool Education and Its Lasting Effects: Research and Policy Implications, and finally The Sooner The Better: Early Childhood Education, A Key To Life-Long Success.
The day cares must know all of this, because a full-time infant spot in a day care (good Boston-area location) costs more than… $3K/month! Higher than any rent I have ever paid (and I spent one year in a not bad place in Chelsea, Manhattan).
It is not uncommon that one year of day care will cost you more than a year of college. Plus there are many ways in which you can save for college. It is hard but not impossible to get a scholarship for attending a school, but go get one for a preschool. And you can always work to pay for college. Infants can’t do that. College themselves offer many options, like being a teaching or research assistant, to save for education.
What do you get for the hefty tuition of a day care, by the way? You get to shut the infant in a windowless basement for the entire day. This is the usual issue that they are liable if a child trips outside and scratches a knee, but no method was yet FDA approved to measure the brain damage ensuing from spending 10 hours in a basement during summertime. (Naturally, they promise that the child will go out multiple times *every* day.) You also have to bring lunch, and provide diapers and wipes.
Frankly, I find all of this ridiculous. Think about it. When your child hits 5 years, they are guaranteed a free spot in public schools. Until then, you’re on your own. You are not guaranteed a spot in a day care, and if you are lucky to get it it costs a fortune. The government’s support in this crucial juncture is this: you can save taxes on $5K spent towards day cares. That’s about $1500 bucks, less than half of one month of tuition. And naturally for this you have to fill some extra bureaucracy, and have a little less cash for a year (you get it all back after that). Oh and by the way, if you end up not using the money, sorry, everything’s gone.
Providing quality, affordable day care is one of the most effective ways to achieve many desired goals, including life-long “success” and reducing the gender gap.