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Professional Women Found More Likely To Benefit From Employer Child Care

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Although employers have taken more steps in recent years to help their workers arrange child care, professional women are considerably more likely to benefit from such efforts than are those in nonprofessional jobs, a new study shows.

The report was published by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a nonprofit research group based in Washington. Drawing on data from the 1990 National Child Care Survey, the study analyzed data on 2,608 working women in households with children under 13.

The study focused on four types of benefits: on-site child care, information and referral services, financial aid for child-care costs, and pretax flexible-spending accounts.

Flexible-spending accounts allow workers to set aside a portion of their paychecks, before taxes, that can be drawn on at agreed-upon intervals to cover dependent care.

Among women in the study, 14.3 percent received at least one type of child-care benefit--a higher proportion than past studies have found. But, the study indicates, an inordinate share of the benefits went to women in professional jobs.

According to the study, 35 percent of women earning more than $20 per hour were offered at least one type of child-care benefit, compared with 16 percent of those earning less than $5 per hour. Nearly 40 percent of women in professional positions were offered at least one child-care benefit, compared with 11 percent of women in service jobs, 15 percent of those in production jobs, and virtually none of the women in agricultural jobs.

Women who completed high school were three times as likely as those with less education to be offered child-care benefits. The study also found that women in Western states and in urban and suburban areas were more likely to be offered benefits than were women in other regions or in rural areas.

More On-Site Care

Jill Foley, a research analyst for the institute and a co-author of the report, said the distribution of benefits by profession mirrors the findings of other studies showing that higher-paid workers in certain occupations are more apt to receive health insurance, pensions, and other benefits.

One of the more "surprising findings,'' Ms. Foley noted, was that nearly 11 percent of all the women in the study were offered on-site child care. Because of its cost, she noted, on-site care is usually characterized in other studies as one of the "least-offered benefits.''

On-site care may have been "more broadly defined'' in the institute's study, noted Beth Miller, the report's principal author. The fact that the study surveyed women with children rather than surveying employers, she added, could also explain the discrepancy.

The higher figure in the study suggests these women "might choose one job over another because of on-site care,'' noted Ms. Miller, a research associate with the Family and Children's Policy Center at Brandeis University.

The study also found that women in occupations such as child care and teaching were among the most likely to have access to on-site care. Among other fields, the military and health care had the highest percentages of women offered on-site child care.

The report, which also examined work options provided by employers, shows that nearly 30 percent of the mothers could choose to take upaid leave, and slightly more than 20 percent could choose "flextime.''

Mothers in professional positions, again, were most likely to be offered such benefits.

Some options the report offers for distributing child-care benefits more evenly include providing employers with tax incentives only for benefits targeted at lower-income workers and mandating that employers offer child-care benefits.

Copies of EBRI Issue Brief 130, "The Distribution of Family Oriented Benefits,'' are available for $25 each from EBRI Publications, Box 4866, Hampden Station, Baltimore, Md. 21211; (410) 516-6946.

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