High childcare costs keeping women out of workplace - study

Three in 10 children not cared for by family and parents have care costs of up to €6.13 an hour

Women are being shut out of the workplace by the high cost of childcare in Ireland, a new study has found.

Parents with one child aged three typically spent about 12 per cent of their disposable income on childcare, the report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and State agency, Pobal, found.

However this figure rose to 16 per cent for lone parents and to 20 per cent for those from lower-income households.

While childcare costs are regularly cited as a major barrier to employment, this report is the first to directly link these costs to lower rates of employment among women. The study assessed the cost and outcomes of childcare only for one child and accepted that the “the burden is more severe for families with more than one child in childcare”.


It mined data from the ESRI's 2011 Growing up in Ireland survey and also tracked the employment patterns of mothers during the first five years of their child's life.

Eight hours

The ESRI report finds that nearly half of the three-year-old children in the Republic were in non-parental care of at least eight hours a week. However, the families of 15 per cent of these children did not pay for this care as it was being provided by relatives; grandparents in the main.

Childcare has become an increasingly relevant issue in Ireland as the proportion of women in the workforce with young children has grown significantly in recent decades

Families who paid for care – amounting to 30 per cent of three year olds – paid for 24 hours a week on average.

The average costs depended on the type of childcare used, ranging from €6.13 an hour for a childminder in the family home to €4.82 an hour for a creche. Costs were higher for those living in Dublin and east Leinster.

The report found that mothers with higher childcare costs when their child was aged three tended to work fewer hours when the child was five.

The study suggested that 10 per cent higher childcare costs were associated with 30 minutes less paid work by mothers per week, while 50 per cent higher childcare costs were associated two and a half hours less paid work a week.

Conversely, for a hypothetical family paying €100 per week on childcare, reducing this to €50 a week would increase the mother’s weekly working hours by two and a half hours.

Household income

Childcare has become an increasingly relevant issue in Ireland as the proportion of women in the workforce with young children has grown significantly in recent decades.

While the ESRI’s report does not compare the price of formal care for preschool children here with those in other countries, most surveys indicate that Ireland has one of the highest costs as a proportion of household income across the OECD.

The report’s co-author, Helen Russell, said findings showed childcare costs were a significant burden to Irish households but also that working arrangements for mothers were more complex than previously thought.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone responded to the findings by noting that the Government had increased its investment in childcare by 80 per cent since 2016 and that 200,000 children were registered in the last 12 months in various Government supported schemes.

However, she said it would take a number of budgets to correct “decades of under-investment”.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times