The Difficult Case of Persuading Women: Experimental Evidence from Childcare

When exposed to information about the positive effects of formal childcare, women with more education were more likely to stay in the labor force and use daycare, while women with less education actually decreased their willingness to stay in the labor force.


In many European countries there remain significant gender gaps in the labor market, with far fewer women participating in the workforce than men. Throughout Europe, 62% of women work, whereas 75% of men do. In Italy, that gap is even more pronounced: 51% of women work compared to 72% of men. Cultural beliefs about the role of women as better care providers for children could partially explain this gap. In this paper researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial to test the effects of providing information to women of reproductive age without children about the benefits of outside childcare. In the experiment, women were either shown a video or sent a text message with information about the positive effects of childcare on children’s outcomes. A third group of women remained as a comparison group. Researchers evaluated the effects of information in terms of self-reported labor supply intentions and intended use of outside daycare.


Most women who watched the video or received the text messages understood the messages and thought they were credible. However, there were different responses between non-mothers of different educations levels:

  • On the whole, non-mothers in the text group increased their intended future use of daycare by 15 percentage points, from 44% to 59%. Participants in this group also reported a higher willingness to pay for these services and a 4 percentage point lower desire to have grandparents provide childcare for their children.
  • On the whole, non-mothers in the video treatment group did not change their intended future use of daycare. However, women in the video treatment group reported wanting to work two fewer hours per week, from 19 to 17 hours of the control group. There was no effect seen in the text group.
  • Specifically, non-mothers with higher education increased their intention to use day care from 50% to 72% in the text treatment and from 50% to 61% in the video treatment. Highly educated non-mothers increased their willingness to pay for childcare by 50 Euros.
  • Non-mothers with less education showed no increase in their intention to use daycare after receiving texts or watching the video. In fact, their reported willingness to work decreased from 88% to 76%.

There were no changes in reported desire to work for highly educated women who received the treatment. However, they reported a higher willingness to use formal childcare and to pay more for it. Women with lower education levels decreased their intention to work with no effect on day care or willingness to pay for it.


Researchers randomly allocated 1,503 Italian women between the ages of 20 and 40 years into three groups: recipients of a text with information touting the benefits of day care outside the home; recipients of a one-minute long video with the same information but also showing images of children in a day-care; and a control group which received no messages about the benefits of formal child care.  Prior to the experiment, women were administered an online survey to obtain baseline characteristics including demographics and fertility. Women were then randomly assigned to the two treatment groups or the control group, and those in the treatment groups received messages summarizing previous research about the benefits of day care attendance on children’s outcomes.

Once the women in treatment groups received these messages, everyone took another online survey asking them about their reactions to the information.  A final step of the survey entailed asking women about their intentions to join the labor force, as well as their intended use or non-use of day care. Only women who had not yet had children were asked the latter question, as women who already had children would have had to make the decision whether or not to use day care already.  Researchers checked the survey’s external validity by comparing the sample’s demographics to that of a national survey on Italians and household characteristics.  Regression analysis was used to evaluate outcomes.

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