More nurseries and more places in kindergartens favor female employment. This is confirmed by data in a study carried out by Fondazione Openpolis, together with social enterprise Con i Bambini within the fund for contrast educational child poverty.
“Nurseries and women's participation in the world of employment are closely related issues. Increasing female employment was the explicit intent of the Barcelona targets set by the EU to expand the supply of early childhood services," the researchers write.
It is no coincidence that in the conclusions of the report of the President of the European Council in Barcelona in 2002 we read that "Member States should remove disincentives to female participation in the workforce and strive (…) to provide assistance for children for at least 90% of children aged between 3 and the compulsory school age and for at least 33% of children under the age of 3 by 2010”.
Nurseries have a very important social function. Offering these services at an affordable price is an incentive to female employment, and therefore to gender equality as well as to a better economic condition of the family unit. And this is particularly true in Italy, where female employment has traditionally lagged behind.
A gap that concerns gender equality
Italy is one of the European countries with the lowest levels of female employment. Compared to an EU average of 66.5% employed women between 20 and 64 years, our country is in second to last place with 52.5%, just above Greece (48%).
Italy is also the second country with the widest employment gap between men and women: 19.8 percent difference compared to an EU average of 11.5. For example, in Scandinavian and northern European countries the differences are much more limited: 1 point in Lithuania, 3.5 in Finland, 4 in Sweden.
The employment gap increases if only men and women with children are compared. Compared to a European average of 18.8% of gap between fathers and employed mothers, Italy exceeds by almost 10 points (28.1). A figure in line with that of Greece and very distant from the 8.3 points of difference in Sweden.
Italy has almost 30 points of employment gap between fathers and mothers
Low employment for women with children
The imbalance is even more significant if the employed are compared with the number of children. In our country, women between the ages of 20 and 49 without children work in 62.4% of cases, against a European average of 77.2%. Among women with one child, Italian women work in 57.8% of cases, compared to 80.2% in the United Kingdom, 78.3% in Germany, 74.6% in France.
In Italy, women with children are less employed
The interesting thing to note is that in the major EU countries women with two children participate in the labor market to a greater extent than Italian women without children. A distance that is in the order of 12 points when compared with the United Kingdom and Germany, and almost 16 compared to France.
And even looking at the employment of women with 3 or more children in the major European countries, the share is not so different from that of women with a single child in Italy. In France’s case it is even higher: 59.1% of women with three or more children compared to 57.8% of women with a child in Italy.
Areas with more nurseries are often those where more women work (and vice versa)
The existence of a relationship between women's participation in the labor market and the extension of services for early childhood can be seen through territorial data. In the 4 regions where the presence of nursery schools and supplementary services for early childhood exceeds 33%, female employment rate exceeds 60%.
The relationship between female employment and childcare
At the same time, the regions with less employment coincide with those where services for early childhood are less developed: Campania, Sicily, Calabria and Puglia. And going down to a local level, in the provinces, there is an overlap between the areas of the country where fewer women participate in the labor market and those where there are fewer kindergartens.
In the central-northern provinces, more young women are employed
Obviously the relationship can be interpreted in two different ways. On the one hand, the areas of the country with more employed women are also those where the demand for nursery places is stronger. On the other hand, serious shortcomings – if not absences – of the nursery service in certain areas are certainly not an incentive to female employment. And precisely because of this, already in 2002 the European Council in Barcelona insisted on strengthening early childhood services as a tool to increase women's participation in the labor market.
More nurseries in the provinces of the center, in Trento and Aosta
Intervening in these territories can therefore be an investment in terms of gender equality and female participation in the labor market. But it also means making an investment in terms of children's human capital. Nurseries play a fundamental educational role, it’s even more important to reduce the gaps in the most critical areas of the country.