Would you consider working just to cover the cost of childcare? According to a recently released EU-wide study, that’s exactly what huge numbers of Irish women are doing.
The researchers used a “Participation Tax Rate” (PTR) to see what percentage of earnings are lost through tax, loss of social welfare benefits, and childcare costs. The study was based on secondary earners – typically women returning to work after time off – to assess in which countries it’s really worthwhile. And in Ireland, if it’s just for financial reasons, it seems it’s not. For an Irish couple with two children and paying childcare costs, there was a PTR of 94%. In other words, for every €100 the secondary earner is paid, €94 is spent on tax and childcare, leaving just €6 net disposable income (click here for a really easy to follow analysis of the report)
We already know we have the highest childcare costs in Europe, but to see it put in those terms is nevertheless surprising. In most families, joint household income covers household costs, including childcare. But for women who have been out of the workforce and are assessing whether or not to return, it’s logical to weigh up future income against future outgoings. What is the cost of going back to work? And why would anyone go back if almost all of their earnings are being spent on childcare?
Five generous women explained exactly that when they their stories with me for this article on HerFamily.ie. Four of them have at times just about broken even after paying for childcare, but they did it because they knew there was an end in sight. They needed to get through the difficult childcare years, in order to maintain careers for when they come out the other side. You can read their full stories here: Irish mums are among the worst off in Europe: 5 mums on the crippling childcare years
There’s something very depressing about it – about childcare that costs as much as or more than a mortgage, and state investment that didn’t happen during years when there was money available. But I think there’s something inspiring too about tenacious people who go to extremes to make career and family work, in spite of huge financial obstacles. And until changes come, that’s the choice many families face – work to pay childcare or give up altogether. Here’s hoping that when our children grow up, they’re not still facing these barriers and they’re not still having this debate.