why is childcare seen as a female expense

The Cost of Change

There’s currently a lot of discussion in the media in Australia about the ever-increasing cost of childcare. I know this cost because Hugh was in long daycare for three years. I agree that it’s hideously expensive, especially in capital cities and especially when multiple children are in care. Whilst school education in Australia can be accessed pretty close to free of charge, care for pre-school aged children can cost upwards of $200 or more per day, per child. There are government subsidies and rebates, but they are fairly limited and don’t serve to significantly reduce the cost for many families.

As much as I believe there needs to be reform of our childcare system, there is one aspect of this entire debate that is really very wrong. Most of the time the cost of childcare is discussed, especially in the media, it is discussed in terms of what percentage of the mother’s wage it takes up. We hear that some women are working for $60 per week after childcare costs are taken out, or that there is no point in women working because their wages are inconsequential because of childcare.

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The underlying assumption is that the cost of childcare is borne solely by women. Obviously they are in cases where the woman is a single parent or sole income earner for the family, but in the majority of cases, where there are two parents in a family, the cost of childcare is still always described in terms of its relationship to the mother’s income. There is no mention of men working for a pittance each week once the cost of childcare is taken out. There is no discussion of men simply deciding to stay at home because they don’t see the point in working full-time for less than $100 bucks after childcare costs are considered.

Childcare needs to be treated like all other household expenses. That is, genderless. We don’t hear discussions about how much a man’s take-home pay is reduced by the cost of his electricity bill, or how the cost of council rates really impact on a woman’s decision to return to work. That’s because we see these expenses as joint/ family/ household bills that need to be managed, they are not gendered responsibilities.

Attribution of childcare costs to women, is at its heart, sexist. Until the cost of care of children in two parent families is discussed as a family expense, until we are talking about a couple only bringing home $760 a week combined after taking out the shared cost of childcare, and until we fight this fight on the basis of childcare being too expensive for families, then I don’t believe we’ll see change.

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Given gendered rhetoric like this from our current Prime Minister, it’s clear that this change is a long way off.