We theoretically show that when mothers need to buy childcare services not only if they work but also if they want to search actively for a job, a reduction in the price of childcare will increase their likelihood of searching but may decrease their willingness to accept a job offer and therefore lower employment.
We test these predictions empirically by means of a Regression Discontinuity design and find that the introduction in Italy of pre-kindergarten, a much cheaper alternative to day care for 2-year-old children, increased both participation in the labour market and employment of mothers of eligible children. This effect was driven largely by a significant decrease in the stated reservation wage.
Published in 2018 in: Journal of Public Economics, v. 158, pp. 79-102