The impact of reduced-rate day-care

Quebec introduced reduced-rate day-care in September 1997. This new social program has grown significantly since that time: the number of places increased from 74,000 in 1997 to 210,000 in 2010. The public cost of the program obviously increased as well, climbing from 294 million dollars in 1997 to two billon in 2009, even thought the cost increased from five to seven dollars a day in 2004. 

The Équipe de recherche sur la dynamique d'accumulation du capital humain, les inégalités socioéconomiques et les effets des politiques sociales (Research Group on the Dynamics of Human Capital Accumulation, Socioeconomic Inequalities and Social Policy), directed by Pierre Lefebvre from Université du Québec à Montréal, is evaluating the achievement of the government's two objectives in setting up this program: to increase the number of mothers in the labour force, and to contribute to child development, in particular by reducing the outcome disparities linked to economic environment. The researchers based their study on two representative surveys on families (Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics) and children (National Longitudinal Survey on Children and Youth). 

The results indicate that the number of mothers in the labour market has indeed increased since the introduction of the program, in comparison with the situation in the rest of Canada. Participation in the labour market is on the rise, as well as the number of weeks and hours worked per year and, to a lesser extent, working income levels. 

The results are somewhat less convincing when it comes to child development, which the researchers explain by the very early start and intensive use of day-care at an early age. The results of various cognitive tests on young children (aged 4-5) point to possible negative effects of the policy when the performance of Quebec children is compared with that of children from Ontario and the rest of Canada. This study is not calling into question the use of day-care, but the way in which the services are run: the fact that they offer almost exclusively full-time care, and the variations in quality from one facility to another. This work serves to moderate the results of other, more enthusiastic, studies on the impact of child-care centres on development in young children.


Équipe de recherche sur la dynamique d'accumulation du capital humain


Pierre Lefebvre, Université du Québec à Montréal

Regular members

  • Marie Connolly Pray, Université du Québec à Montréal 
  • Christa Japel, Université de Montréal 
  • Philip J. Merrigan, Université du Québec à Montréal