What is a universal preschool

Does universal preschool increase mothers' job supply?

Relevance of the topic

Since the 1970s, many countries have introduced free or highly subsidized educational formats for preschoolers to improve their learning and socio-economic opportunities and to encourage mothers to work. Evaluations show that these measures can strengthen maternal employment not only in the short term, but also after the end of preschool, by improving the acquisition of qualifications and the retention of mothers in the labor market. However, effectiveness depends on policy making, country context and characteristics of mothers of preschoolers.

Important results


A general pre-school encourages mothers to work if their low employment is caused by a lack of childcare facilities.

Pre-school care enables the acquisition of professional skills and can contribute to greater long-term loyalty to the labor market

If the universal preschool increases maternal employment, the effects last for several years.

Improving the quality, availability and flexibility of pre-school provision could bring more mothers into employment.


If the universal pre-school only displaces existing informal or privately paid childcare, hardly any effect on the gainful employment of mothers is to be expected.

In countries with traditional perceptions of gender roles and low demand for female workers, a universal preschool can only have a limited effect.

A target group-oriented approach is likely to be more cost-effective if a comprehensive preschool primarily increases the labor supply for mothers with low incomes or single parents.

Key message from the author

The effect of a universal pre-school on maternal employment is particularly large in countries with rather low levels of employment, private childcare and social benefits. The positive labor force participation effects persist beyond preschool attendance, but are often concentrated on low-income or single mothers whose youngest child is of pre-school age. As a result, a targeted subsidy of pre-school education for mothers who otherwise could not afford pre-school care for their children should be a more cost-effective way of effectively increasing the number of jobs.