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How parents view the challenges of childcare globally

By World Economic Forum | July 25th 2021

Shot of a mother bonding with her baby boy at home.[Getty Images]

Becoming a parent is a monumental life change no matter where you are in the world.

But where you are in the world does play a part when it comes to how you perceive the challenges of the first 12 months of raising a child.

That is according to Nestlé’s “Parenting Index,” which looks at how mothers and fathers in 16 countries view the ease of being a parent.

Nestlé surveyed more than 8,000 mothers and fathers of babies aged 0-12 months from January 14 to February 27 2020.

The index shows where parents felt the happiest and most supported based on factors including the absence of pressure, financial resilience, support for working life, health and wellbeing resources and shared parenting.

Sweden tops the list as the country where parents felt the most at ease, in control and supported. Parents there reported that government support helped with financial strain and that they shared parenting duties more equally.

New parents in the country receive 480 days of paid parental leave that they can share between them until their child turns eight.

Sweden also subsidises childcare, allowing parents to easily go back to work.

The country ranks fifth in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021. According to the report, it is one of the countries offering the most gender-equal conditions for childcare, with public spending on childcare 1.6 per cent of GDP, second only to Finland.

Chile, Germany, Mexico and the US round out the Parenting Index’s top five.

Yet even among the top countries, no group of parents reports a perfect parenting environment.

According to the survey, parents in Chile report high confidence and positive shared parenting experiences, though it says there is room for improvement in having a supportive environment.

Parents in Germany report low pressure and stronger feelings of financial resilience, but say they lack support for their working life.

Parents in Mexico report lower feelings of pressure and high support for working life but say they need their partner to share parenting more fully.

In the US, parents say they have good access to health and wellbeing services but report more pressure and lack of shared parenting.

More than half (51 per cent) of all parents surveyed reported feeling intense social pressure on how they raise their babies.

Across the 16 countries, 43 per cent of respondents said becoming a parent was more difficult than they thought, and 62 per cent said raising a child has a strong impact on family finances.

The survey also tracked the mental health perception of new parents, with 32 per cent reporting that they felt lonely in the first months and 25 per cent of new mothers reporting suffering from postpartum depression.

The index also found that parenting does not get easier with a second child, with little difference in responses from first-time parents and parents with two or more children.

While parents with older children may have higher confidence caring for babies, the larger structural societal issues remain.

The Nestlé index is an important reminder that becoming a parent opens people up to a lot of factors they cannot control.

The Covid-19 pandemic has added to the stresses parents face. As lockdowns forced school and childcare closures, many parents, women in particular, were forced to leave their jobs, accentuating financial difficulties and often widening the gap between parenting responsibilities among partners.

To support parents around the world, we must invest in the care economy.

We must also ensure societal support in the form of fair parental leave policies and policies that help working parents, such as flexible working options. 

Now, we just need to put in place the systems to ensure that parents around the world have the support they need to let go of the worries and the pressures and focus instead on the joys of parenting.

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