National Survey: Americans Call for Childcare (March 1987)

To pay tribute to five decades of reporting, rebelling and truth-telling, From the Vault includes some of our favorite feminist classics from the last 50 years of MsFor more iconic, ground-breaking stories like this, order 50 YEARS OF Ms.: THE BEST OF THE PATHFINDING MAGAZINE THAT IGNITED A REVOLUTION (Alfred A. Knopf)—a stunning collection of the most audacious, norm-breaking coverage Ms. has published.

Editor’s note: The piece below explores findings from a Ms.-commissioned poll on childcare and women in the workplace from 1987. Fast forward to today—U.S. childcare and early childhood education system and paid maternity leave policies remain woefully inadequate: It’s the only country in the developed world that does not offer any paid maternity leave, and it ranks 39th worldwide for overall child health and well-being.

In the 2021 American Rescue Plan, congressional Democrats and the Biden administration delivered the largest one-time federal investment in childcare. To date, it’s served 9.5 million kids in the U.S. and helped more than 200,000 childcare providers keep their doors open. Later that year, Republicans in Congress, joined by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), blocked Biden’s Build Back Better bill, which would have provided free, universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-old children.

This congressional session, feminists are pressuring Congress to pass the FAMILY Act, which would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of paid leave; the Child Care for Working Families Act, which would offer childcare assistance; the Healthy Families Act, which would set a national standard for paid sick leave; and the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, which would address maternal mortality disparities in the U.S.


From the March 1987 issue of Ms. magazine:

An overwhelming majority of Americans want employer-sponsored childcare programs, regardless of whether or not they have preschool children or are currently employed, according to Ms. magazine’s national survey.

  • Close to three in four (73 percent) of these adults think that the childcare accommodations some companies make for employees are enhancements to everyday work life.
  • Among all adults, 84 percent are in favor of employers offering flexible work hours, and 80 percent want employers to offer childcare referral services, directing parents to possible childcare providers.
  • Fewer adults, but still sizable majorities, said yes to employers providing on-site childcare (70 percent) and subsidizing childcare (58 percent). 

In contrast to this wide majority supporting the concept of employer-sponsored childcare programs, small percentages of those surveyed indicated that their employer currently offers any of these childcare services.

  • flexible work hours: 19 percent
  • child-care referral: 9 percent
  • on-site childcare: 5 percent
  • subsidized childcare: 4 percent

Among the 21 percent of the households with a child under the age of 6, 45 percent would consider changing jobs or returning to work if they knew of a company that provided flexible work hours.

On-site childcare and subsidized childcare would encourage 39 percent and 34 percent respectively to change job or return to work; childcare referral would persuade the fewest to make such a change: 28 percent. 

According to the Ms. Survey, it appears that flexible work hours would have the most immediate positive effect on families both in terms of public opinion and in the lives of employed parents. These results are based on a representative survey of 600 adults in U.S. households with incomes of $25,000 or more.

(Source: Susan Rebell, LAR/Decision Research)

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


A current list of Ms. print and digital editors can be found on the masthead.