Access to Childcare

Childcare is essential for parents to engage with work and further education.

The research on this page investigates childcare access and affordability issues. The research finds a lack of childcare access does not strike mothers randomly; rather, those who are already disadvantaged in certain ways are more likely to experience access issues. All findings are from the Growing Up in New Zealand (GUiNZ) longitudinal study of child development.

This first report asks: Who has problems accessing childcare?

  • Childcare access issues affected 7.7 percent of the GUiNZ cohort at nine months and 7.5 percent at two years.
  • Māori and Pacific mothers were two or three times more likely to experience issues accessing childcare than European mothers.
  • Mothers cited a range of access issues, which implies that no one solution will address the problem. Cost was cited as a major factor, particularly for Pacific mothers.

The second report asks: How persistent are issues with access to affordable childcare?

  • Issues with childcare persist for 20 percent of mothers at 9 months and only 43 percent are clearly resolved (indicated by the child being in childcare). 
  • Māori and Pacific peoples face modestly more persistent issues than Europeans, which, when combined with higher rates of access issues at 9 months, make them 3 to 4 times as likely to experience long-term access issues. 
  • In general, the results show more disadvantaged mothers, who were found in the first report to have higher rates of issues with access to childcare, also have more persistent issues with access to childcare. This is particularly true for mothers from low-income households. 

The third report investigates whether childcare is experienced differently for those families with previous childcare access issues. Findings include:

  • More advantaged families are more likely to resolve their childcare issues, enabling their child to enter childcare.
  • There is no evidence that families with childcare access issues at 9 months that were resolved by 2 years are significantly less satisfied with their child’s care at 2 years than are families that did not report such issues. The Ministry for Women interpret this as positive, suggesting there is not a trade-off for a lesser quality of care.
  • The study found that nearly 90 percent of parents had a choice about the type of childcare they used, however, there were differences between ethnic groups, European parents are less likely to report lack of choice (9%) and Pacifika reported the greatest restrictions (17%).
  • European mothers were most satisfied with communication from their childcare service and Māori parents the least.
  • Europeans are more likely than Māori and Pasifika to use formal childcare, but tend to use fewer hours each week. This could suggest many Māori and Pasifika choose not to use regular childcare in situations where Europeans would. It may also speak to European mothers’ ability to negotiate flexible hours of work.

The relationship between childcare and paid work is explored in the fourth report and highlights that early childhood education is important infrastructure for the labour market as well as education. 

  • Mothers whose child is not in childcare due to access issues are likely to still want or need employment. Many who are managing to work use precarious childcare. There is a strong relationship between the hours children are in childcare and the hours women work, with hours in childcare roughly matching mothers hours in paid work. Those mothers without access to childcare who still manage paid work, work the fewest hours. 
  • The total annual value of wages lost by mothers with a child under 3 due to lack of childcare access is estimated to be $116 million in 2020 dollars. At 9 months the average New Zealand mother who is not working due only to childcare access would be working 24 hours per week if she were working. At 2 years, such mothers would be working 27 hours per week. Affected Māori women miss 25 hours of work each week at 9 months and 28 hours at 2 years. Pasifika women miss 28 hours at 9 months and 33 hours at 2 years.
  • Expressed as wages,  at 9 months mothers not working only due to childcare issues are missing out on an average of $2,660 per month and at 2 years they are missing out on $3,500. Affected Māori mothers are missing out on $2,400 at 9 months and $3,230 at 2 years. Affected Pasifika mothers are missing out on $2,350 at 9 months and $3,350 at 2 years.
  • Although Māori mothers are only 22% of those giving birth each year, they bear an estimated 28% of the missed wage cost; because Māori mothers are substantially over-represented among mothers not working due only to childcare access at 2 years.

The fifth report asks: How do childcare access issues affect the work status of mothers’ when they are nearly school aged?

  • Thirteen percent of GUiNZ mothers report at either 9 months or 2 years that their child is not in childcare because of access issues; this rises to 16% of Māori mothers and 21% of Pasifika mothers.
  • The study suggests mothers with a weak work history due to childcare access issues when their child is young have more trouble securing a high-skilled job later on. 
  • The labour force participation rate could increase by removing childcare access issues - at 54 months by between 0 and 2 percentage points overall, between 0 and 3 percentage points for Māori mothers, and between 0 and 4.5 percentage points for Pasifika mothers.
  • Māori and Pasifika mothers are disproportionately affected by access issues and their long term work costs. This is concerning because the decreases in income that result may substantially reduce the material wellbeing of their affected families.