Hybrid seminar! Prof. Anna Kurowska will be present at SOFI, Stockholm University, in room F800. To participate via Zoom, contact the seminar organisers: SWS Seminar


In spite of increasing levels of female employment, having a child below school age often goes along with a substantial decrease in employment engagement for women. Consequently, previous family policy research suggests that increasing childcare availability might be a promising tool to facilitate maternal employment as it increases the economic incentive to take up work. Another line of reasoning highlights that cultural attitudes towards maternal employment are equally important in shaping the employment decisions of mothers. In this paper, we combine insights of both approaches and argue that culture, in addition to its direct effect on maternal employment, moderates the impact of childcare policies. In particular, we argue that the positive effect of childcare may be weaker in more conservative cultural contexts. To assess this question empirically, we exploit the implementation of a centralised childcare reform in Poland as a natural experiment by means of a regression discontinuity design. Relying on individual-level data on employment and regional-level information on the influence of conservatism in a certain region, we run multilevel regressions with cross-level interaction terms to estimate the effect of the reform depending on the local cultural context. Consistent with our theoretical expectations, the impact of the reform is rather strong in less conservative areas, but fades away in increasingly conservative contexts. Supplementary analyses reveal that the effect also differs with regard to household composition, with smaller families displaying larger gains in maternal employment. These findings confirm that conservative cultural attitudes appear to suppress the positive effect of increasing childcare availability.