Day Care as a Social Phenomenon

The use of day care has increased dramatically as increasing numbers of mothers have chosen to work outside of the home. According to the U.S. Census, only 31 percent of mothers of infants were working in 1976. This percentage climbed to 47 percent in 1984 and to 59 percent in 1998. As mentioned in a review by Kathleen McCartney and Deborah Phillips, societal views of day care have also changed over time. When day care was first formally established in the United States, a stigma was attached to its use. In the late 1800s through the early 1900s, day nurseries were established to make up for the ''poor home environments'' of working immigrants. Societal views changed during the Great Depression and World War II, when the need for day care was seen as temporary; the expectation was that mothers would later return home to their children, and federal funds for day-care programs were immediately withdrawn after these crises were over. In the 1960s, educational day-care programs, such as Head Start (which began in 1965), were established to compensate for disadvantaged home environments. In contrast to day nurseries, which were established to make up for home environments that were viewed as poor because of deficiencies on behalf of the parents, the home environments were seen as disadvantaged due to factors beyond the parent's control such as poverty and discrimination in the 1960s. The focus of the programs in this later era was on educational intervention and increasing school readiness to overcome these factors. In the 1980s and 1990s, mothers who used day care were conflicted and felt pressured to stay home and work. As maternal employment becomes more normative, societal views may continue to shift.

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