In an interesting new paper authored by Sebastien Montpetit and Colleagues, researchers took a close look at the implications, successes and lessons from Quebec’s child care reform in the 90s. Canada’s childcare landscape is complex and always evolving, meaning that outcomes and impacts of policies are often difficult to measure. The Reform of Quebec’s child care system poses a unique opportunity to study and understand the implications and compare them to other childcare systems and outcomes in the rest of Canada. 

The paper, A Welfare Analysis of Universal Childcare: Lessons From a Canadian Reform, draws on data from the National Longitudinal Study on Children and Youth, as well as the Canadian Censuses of 2016 and 2021 paired with review of the existing literature. 

As reported by Canadian economist Gordon Cleaveland in his excellent posting about the paper, Montpetit’s findings show that increasing the number of child care spots, not just decreasing prices, significantly facilitates mothers’ ability to work. In areas of Quebec where there was the biggest increase in child care availability, mothers’ employment went up by 67%, and use of regulated child care increased by 38%, even when accounting for other regional factors. 

Monpetit estimates that for every dollar the government spends, mothers’ earnings increase by 1.42 dollars. The paper finds that the non-monetary benefits for mothers are also significant. He writes,“increased availability reduces non-monetary costs associated with childcare use, such as time spent commuting to the caregiver and search effort to find a place when supply is limited.” When accounting for all of these factors, not just financial gains, estimates show that mothers benefit more than 3.5 dollars for every dollar the government spends. 

Montpetit disputes the findings of some previous research that claimed Quebec’s early childcare reform had negative impacts on child development. A paper published in 2008 by Michael Baker, Kevin Milligan and Johnathan Gruber states that “eligible children in two-parent families experienced worse development outcomes and were exposed to worse parenting practices, such as worse health outcomes and lower consistency in parenting.” However, Monteptit’s  analysis of long-term data leads him to write,; “the educational attainment of students in Quebec is similar to that of students in the rest of Canada, the negative impacts on child behavior do not translate into worse economic outcomes later in life.”

Child Care Now has always argued, based on many analyses, that universally accessible early learning and child care programs yield many benefits. It is good to read another detailed paper that makes the arguments so well.