Employer-Supported Child Care: Who Participates?

Article excerpt

Child-care vouchers are becoming more common and can provide child-care assistance to a wide spectrum of the population. There is little empirical research, however, on which workers participate in their employer's child-care programs. In this exploratory study, employees with children at 1 large university completed questionnaires to gather information on their child-care arrangements and their experience with the employer's child-care voucher program (N = 949). Results indicate that the employees who were most in need of child-care assistance in terms of family structure, job type, and child-care expenses were more likely to receive vouchers. Federal policy limiting the structure of employer-sponsored voucher programs appeared to present barriers to participation for certain groups of employees.

Key Words: child-care arrangements, families and work, family policy, logistic regression, work-family balance.

The consequences of child-care problems for employees and their productivity at work serve as a primary motivation for employers to provide child-care assistance to their employees. In 1989, the Families and Work Institute (1989) published the Productivity Effects of Workplace Child Care Centers, one of the first studies to delineate the effects of child care on parent productivity. Since then, firms have experimented with various initiatives to promote employee productivity, recruitment, and retention through child-care assistance, including on-site child-care centers, employersupported resource and referral networks, back-up or sick care provision, flextime, or portable child-care subsidies or vouchers (Friedman, 2001).

Although on-site child-care centers grew in popularity during the 1980s and 1990s, many employers, particularly small firms, have been reluctant to invest in centers because of their high sunk costs, continuing demand for operating subsidies, and the relatively small number of children served (Stoney, Mitchell, & Dichter, 2001). Voucher programs are more flexible and can be tailored to employee's individual needs. Voucher funds also can fluctuate relative to employee demand and market conditions. Furthermore, because vouchers can be linked to regular payroll operations, they are a tool easily implemented by all employers, regardless of firm size or the number of employees with children, and thus offer wider replicability than on-site child care.

There is a considerable body of research on the impacts of on-site child care, flextime, and maternity and paternity leave on employees (Bygren & Duvander, 2006; Goff, Mount, & Jamison, 1990; Halpern, 2005). Likewise, there is a wealth of research on the effects of public subsidies, which constitute the largest form of public child-care assistance in the United States (Kelly, 2003), on parental employment among poor families. In general, subsidy receipt has been associated with the use of higher quality and licensed child care (Crosby, Gennetian, & Huston, 2005), fewer work-hour problems (Press, Fagan, & Laughlin, 2006), and higher maternal labor force participation and improved employment stability (Meyers, 1993; Meyers, Heintze, & Wolf, 2002). By contrast, there are few studies on employer-provided portable child-care vouchers.

Participation in Employer Work-Family Initiatives

Relatively little research has explored which employees elect to participate in their employer's child-care initiatives. Previous studies have indicated that, although many firms report having work-family initiatives on their books, few employees take advantage of them (Bond, Thompson, Galinsky, & Prottas, 2002). The social context of the workplace, including the emphasis supervisors place on "face time" and on educating their employees about their benefits, have been strongly and negatively related to work-family program take-up rates (Berg, Kalleberg, & Appelbaum, 2003; Blair-Loy & Wharton, 2002; Bygren & Duvander, 2006). …