Kavya Vaghul

Department of Urban Studies and Planning

The Child Care Conundrum: The costs and consequences of unmet child care needs among parents working at academic institutions

Cities across the United States are saddled with a burgeoning child care conundrum, a mismatch between the skyrocketing need for child care and the fundamental insufficiency of child care infrastructure and policies to address the growing demand. To be sure, the broken child care market—characterized by too few spots, mediocre quality, and exorbitant costs—forces parents to make tradeoffs in order to fully meet their child care needs. These tradeoffs not only perpetuate deep-seated gender inequalities and compromise family economic security, but they also have broader social and economic consequences. Though research shows that large public investments could go a long way in fixing the child care conundrum and its pernicious effects, current political gridlock has hindered efforts to create universal child care programs and policies.

In the absence of large public investments in child care, this thesis builds a case for local employers and institutions to be held accountable for filling the early child care needs of their workforce. One such employer primed to tackle the child care conundrum is the American academe. I use the results of an original online survey of parents working, teaching, researching, or studying in academia with a child under the age of five to develop a deterministic model that quantifies the total cost of unmet child care needs to academic parents and academic institutions. The findings suggest that a variety of small investments in child care by academic institutions could generate substantial savings for parents and institutions alike, contribute to local economic development, and set the stage for innovative child care policy.

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