By Terry Vanderheyden

TORONTO, February 2, 2006 ( – A newly released study of universal daycare as already offered in Quebec has revealed some serious dangers. The authors report, “We uncover striking evidence that children are worse off in a variety of behavioral and health dimensions, ranging from aggression to motor-social skills to illness,” according to a summary issued in December by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“We analyzed the impact of Quebec’s program on work choices, family functioning and children’s well-being and found some positive and some strikingly negative outcomes,” their report states. The researchers, led by University of Toronto economist Michael Baker, also found a negative effect on parents. “Our analysis also suggests that the new childcare program led to more hostile, less consistent parenting, worse parental health, and lower-quality parental relationships,” they said.

In summary, the findings revealed that children in daycare were 17 times more hostile than children raised at home, and almost three times more anxious.

Baker, along with co-authors Jonathan Gruber, a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Kevin Milligan, Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of British Columbia, used data gleaned from the National Longitudinal Study of Children and Youth. “We compare the outcomes for children in Quebec to those of children in other parts of Canada, who act as a control group against whom to evaluate what we see in Quebec,” they explain. “We compare Quebec and the rest of Canada before and after the program was introduced in 1997.”

The group focused on two-parent families in Quebec. They note that the program, which costs Quebec taxpayers $7 per day per child, “heavily subsidized the cost of childcare for middle- and high-income families.” They report a 60-percent increase in subsidized childcare use among this group. Quebec’s middle and upper income earners had a “dramatic increase” in daycare usage since the program’s introduction in 1996, with 51 percent of children in care, v. 16 percent in the rest of the country. In addition, 21 percent of mothers worked outside the home in Quebec, “more than double the increase in the rest of Canada,” since the subsidized daycare was available.

“Several measures we looked at suggest that children were worse off in the years following the introduction of the universal childcare program,” Baker and his colleagues state. “We studied a wide range of measures of child well-being, from anxiety and hyperactivity to social and motor skills. For almost every measure, we find that the increased use of childcare was associated with a decrease in their well-being relative to other children. For example, reported fighting and other measures of aggressive behaviour increased substantially. Our results are consistent with evidence from the National Institute of Child Health and Development Early Childcare Research Network (2003), showing that the amount of time through the first 4.5 years of life that a child spends away from his or her mother is a predictor of assertiveness, disobedience, and aggression.”

“Furthermore, we find that several important measures of well-being show parents to be worse off,” Baker adds. “The survey data showed that mothers of the children in daycare were more depressed, as indicated by the significant rise in their depression scores relative to the average. The quality of their parenting practices declined, as measured by responses to questions on consistency, hostile or ineffective parenting, and ‘aversive interactions.’ They also reported a significant deterioration in the quality of their relationship with their partners, as measured by mothers’ reports of their satisfaction with their spousal relationship on a scale from one to 11.”

The authors conclude that “preliminary evidence leaves it unclear, on balance, whether this program is what is best for children and their parents.” They also warn that adopting the program would cost “significantly” more than what the Liberal government has proposed. “A potential expenditure of this magnitude demands careful understanding of the potential benefits,” they state.

Read the full research, available as a Special Report here: