Global Resources

Women’s work: mothers, children and the global childcare crisis

Author: E. Samman, E. Presler-Marshall, N. Jones
Publisher: Overseas Development Institute
Publication Date: Mar 2016

All around the world, mothers are forced to make difficult choices in how to balance work and childcare. The issue is especially bad in developing countries and amongst poorer households, with an estimated 35.5 million children under the age of five left alone, or with other young children, without adult supervision as parents strive to earn enough to support them. This negatively impacts children’s development and welfare, and is also symptomatic of the pressures and stress placed on parents, especially mothers who are forced to work with no access to childcare provision. This issues brief by the Overseas Development Institute summarises the emerging global crisis in child care, highlighting the impact on children and women and the policy failures that have led to this situation.


The brief discusses the gendered nature of unpaid care responsibilities, the gender gap in pay, the ‘motherhood pay penalty’ for women who have to pay for childcare in order to work, and the impacts of unpaid care on adolescent and young girls in inhibiting their opportunities. Government policies have failed these women and girls, especially rural, agricultural workers to whom programmes rarely reach. Cash transfers and work opportunities are welcome, yet often fail to account for the time constraints faced by women, while early childhood care and education (ECCE) focuses too much on school-readiness, and not on fulfilling the needs of carers.


The issues brief closes by making six key recommendations for stakeholders:



  • Extend and implement care-related labour market policies to enable parents to combine work and care better, and to foster pay parity.

  • Promote an integrated, multi-generational approach to social protection that is sensitive to care responsibilities.

  • Promote adequate resources for scaling up early childhood care and education (ECCE), with a focus on care.

  • Include men in caregiving agendas, from granting male parental and paternity leave, to including boys in educational programmes on gender equality and equity.

  • Invest in better data to increase understanding of the circumstances of millions of children whose parents are struggling to balance care and employment.