Parents know all too well about the rising costs of child care in America, but you'll never believe how the U.S. stacks up against countries around the globe.

By Melissa Mills
September 25, 2020
Happy children and pre-school teacher clapping hands in kindergarten
Credit: Getty Images

Most parents I know have come to terms with the idea of shelling out a good portion of their income for child care. It is what it is, right? Well, not so fast. It's true that the cost of child care is ever-increasing in the U.S.—especially now due to the pandemic—but that's actually not the case for countries worldwide.

The 2020 Cost of Care Survey by found that American families spend $215 a week on average on daycare, up from $186 a week in 2013. In fact, child care is so expensive that 72 percent of parents report spending more than 10 percent of their household income on it, and more than half spend at least $10,000 each year. Depending which state you live in, the cost of sending your kid to daycare could be even less affordable.

It's frustrating, but many parents have no choice but to spend big bucks on reliable child care. Ready to get really angry? Parents from around the world recently broke down their daycare costs in a Reddit thread and, well, it might just have you rethinking living in the U.S. for a minute.

"American here, curious to see what those around the globe pay for childcare," the original poster u/emeflo wrote, tacking on that in Virginia, where they lived, parents pay $175 each week (or $700 monthly) for licensed child care. As a parent of a toddler who goes to daycare in a suburb of New Jersey near New York City, I can confirm that costs are even higher here. Many families where I live shell out well over $1,000 each month on daycare costs for their little ones—and that doesn't include meal plans, diapers, or any supplies you might need to provide yourself.

One user from France commented that low-income families send their babies to daycare for free, but high-income families could expect to pay about €500, or the equivalent of $580.80 monthly.

"Here in Finland, the cost depends on the family's income," poster u/foxlei wrote. "Earlier when my husband had a lesser paying job we didn't pay anything for childcare. Now that his [paycheck] is bigger we pay around 200€ for two full-time children per month. The cost is also capped and in my city, the highest anyone has to pay is 288€ per month." That breaks down to less than $350 each month—max. And a poster from Sweden echoed the costs for where they live, adding that their family only pays about $35 on daycare for their son.

Americans, understandably, commented with their frustration: "Every time we have one of these threads, I cry because we pay like $2400/month for fulltime daycare in a large city," one user wrote. "It's f*cking ridiculous."

Ridiculous, yes. But why exactly are the costs so different depending on where you live? After all, aren't all daycare centers providing the same basic things? Well, access to quality child care isn't necessarily a given everywhere. In the U.S., the responsibility to care for children falls solely on the primary caregivers and most child care centers are privatized. As for other countries, like Korea, Austria, Greece, and Hungary, parents have more assistance from the government. And in places like Denmark and Norway, the cost of child care is indeed capped, another striking difference from daycares in the U.S.

"Families residing in rich neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods, in high- and low-minority neighborhoods, and in urban or rural areas can expect to find early care and education programs at approximately the same level of quality," Chris Herbst, an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University and a research fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labor in Bonn, Germany, told CNN of child care in Western Europe.

Between the 1970s and the 2000s, child care costs in this country grew by about 2,000 percent, according to a 2013 paper by Sabino Kornich of the University of Sydney and Frank Furstenberg of the University of Pennsylvania. Now, with a global pandemic on our hands and parents overwhelmed by juggling work, child care, and home responsibilities, the need for help has never been so clear.

"Why can't the U.S. get this right?" one Redditor commented. "I look at the numbers in other countries and other areas of the U.S. and am just astounded." It's clear that it's time for a change.


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