Education, Gender, Well-being

Early childhood education and care (ECEC): A vital component of the family policy framework in OECD countries

2 minute read

By Jonas Fluchtmann ( and Maxime Ladaique (, Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs (OECD)

For more insights visit the OECD’s Gender Equality Data Portal

Early childhood education and care (ECEC) is a vital component of the family policy framework in OECD countries. Since mothers frequently shoulder the majority of the caregiving responsibilities, ECEC can help mothers find their desired work/family balance when returning to work after maternity/parental leave. In addition to facilitating both parents labour market engagement, ECEC is also positively associated with child development, learning, increased equality of opportunities and reduced poverty. ECEC is therefore a crucial tool to advance a range of family, child, and gender equality policy objectives.

However, enrolment in ECEC facilities (e.g. crèches, kindergarten and day-care centres) varies widely across OECD countries, particularly for the youngest children. For example, across the OECD, on average a little over a third of 0 to 2-year-olds were enrolled in ECEC in 2020, compared to almost nine out of ten 3 to 5-year-olds. However, enrolment of 0 to 2-year-olds ranged from close to 70% (the Netherlands) to less than 10% (Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Mexico, Slovak Republic, and Türkiye). The reasons for this cross-country variation are often related to differences in parental leave entitlements, a wide disparity in public support for childcare, and diverse social attitudes towards caring for very young children.

Enrolment rates of 0 to 2-year-olds are typically highest in countries with strong dual-earner norms. For example, in Denmark and Norway, enrolment rates are relatively high as both partners typically return to full-time employment after parental leave entitlements expire since parental fees for the publicly funded ECEC-sector are relatively low. In contrast, the Slovak Republic, Mexico, and Türkiye have notably lower enrolment rates due to long parental leave, reliance on maternal or informal care, and generally lower public investment in family supports. The Netherlands has the highest participation rate in the OECD, but mothers often work part-time while their children attend childcare for only one or two days per week. As a result, the average weekly hours in ECEC are also the lowest in the OECD. Other countries with low hours in ECEC are often those that have comparatively high out-of-pocket costs for childcare attendance, such as the Czech Republic, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.