Consumption of Child Care: a Social Construction Perspective

Jyotsna Mukherji, University of Memphis
ABSTRACT - This paper examines the issue of child care from the mother’s perspective. Using Ritzer’s (1992) framework of levels of social analysis, I have studied the phenomenon of child care through actors, actions and interactions. The epistemological basis of this research is that there are multiple and coexisting realities. Through in-depth interviews I have examined the reality of child care as constructed by mothers and discovered four major themes. These themes are: process of finding and maintaining child care, differences between family care and day care, conceptualizing and maintaining trust, social and market relationship, and information systems.
[ to cite ]:
Jyotsna Mukherji (1997) ,"Consumption of Child Care: a Social Construction Perspective", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, eds. Merrie Brucks and Deborah J. MacInnis, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 75-81.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, 1997      Pages 75-81

CONSUMPTION OF CHILD CARE: A SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION PERSPECTIVE

Jyotsna Mukherji, University of Memphis

ABSTRACT -

This paper examines the issue of child care from the mother’s perspective. Using Ritzer’s (1992) framework of levels of social analysis, I have studied the phenomenon of child care through actors, actions and interactions. The epistemological basis of this research is that there are multiple and coexisting realities. Through in-depth interviews I have examined the reality of child care as constructed by mothers and discovered four major themes. These themes are: process of finding and maintaining child care, differences between family care and day care, conceptualizing and maintaining trust, social and market relationship, and information systems.

INTRODUCTION

The decision, for parents, especially mothers, to find child care is an important one. For most families this decision is difficult and involves significant emotional and financial stress. These stresses are compounded by reports in the media of cruel treatment of children in some day care centers, and inability of public officials to track and control these violators. How do parents go about finding child care? What are the characteristics they look for in care providers which makes them entrust their children to strangers?

The issue of child care has attracted an increasing amount of attention from a number of different groups, including the disciplines of sociology, economics, psychology, and public policy. As mothers of small children have entered the work force in large numbers in the last two decades, child development experts, sociologists, policy makers, and advocacy groups have placed child care high on the research agenda (Blau 1991). However, the consumption o child care is a phenomenon which has not been addressed adequately in the field of consumer behavior.

I was interested in understanding the social reality of mothers who sought child care. Figure 1 outlines the major levels of social analysis that can be applied to the study of child care (Ritzer 1992). At the macro level this phenomenon looks at the influence of the economy, World War II, and the feminist movement. At the micro level would be stress and emotional related issues like guilt, regret, and fear (these issues were pointed out to me by a very insightful reviewer). Using Ritzer’s framework of social analysis, (given in figure 1) I realized that the phenomenon I was studying was between the objective and the subjective continuum. The phenomenon was in the middle, in that it had both the objective and the subjective elements. I saw objective aspects through actors, actions, interactions and subjective aspects through the construction of reality, norms, and values. This research adopts the phenomenological approach and uncovers the phenomenon of the consumption of child care from the consumer’s experiences, and the meanings they ascribe to these experiences.

CONTEXTUAL FORCES

The phenomenon of child care has been shaped by changes in society over the past many years. In the following sections I review the major forces that have influenced the consumption of child care.

Women’s Participation in the Work Force

Women’s participation in the work force has been on the rise during this century. At present, more than 19 million women are in the labor force, which is six out of every ten American women (Moen 1992; Davidson and Gordon 1979). Even more striking has been the growth in employment of mothers of preschool children. In 1950 only 12 percent of mothers of preschoolers were in employment, but by 1990 this had grown to 59.4 percent (U.S. Bureau of Census 1990b).

Several reasons can be ascribed to the increase in women’s employment ( Moen 1992). Chief among them is the decline in importance of physical strength in most jobs, which have made them open to women. In addition, two sectors of the economy which have traditionally employed women have grown, these are clerical and administrative work, and sales and service jobs. World War II provided a major impetus to women’s employment. Both the proportion (from 27 percent in 1940 to 35 percent in 1944) and composition of the female segment of the labor force changed significantly. Prior to World War II, the female labor force was composed of single women often from minority and low income strata of society, but during the war married women with children joined the labor force. In fact, war became synonymous with patriotism, and woman power became crucial to winning the war (Moen 1992).

The Feminist Movement

The 1970s saw the flowering of the feminist movement which not only inspired legislation, but also gave legitimacy to women’s quest for equality. That decade was marked by a transformation in the attitude toward women’s roles, specifically, an increasing acceptance of women’s participation in paid work outside the home (Davidson and Gordon 1979). The cultural impact of the feminist movement has altered the life expectations of married American women. Married women with children looked for growth opportunities outside the traditional maternal role (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halston 1981). There were other forces which shaped women’s lives and in many ways contributed to their participation in the labor force; these include reduction in fertility, delays in marriage, delays in having chidren, rise in educational attainment for women, increased incidences of single parenthood, decline in real wages, and the threat of poverty.

Dominant Ideologies

One predominant ideology that affects the consumption of child care is the doctrine of two spheres (Moen 1992). According to this doctrine, the home and family are held as private arenas, where children are raised and family values are taught. The sanctity of the family means that government has very little to do with matters pertaining to the family, including child care. On the other hand, the spirit of free enterprise and individualism has prevented the government from adopting family goals on its political agenda. The implication for child care is that this continues to be a private concern with parents making their own arrangements with little help from government, unlike in countries like Sweden (Davidson and Gordon 1979). In Sweden 73 percent of the preschool children are cared for in publicly funded institutions (Ferber, O’Farrell, and Allen 1991).

Another factor is the cultural dilemma that takes place with the employment of mothers, especially mothers of young children, being at cross purposes with family values. In our society, mothers still have the primary responsibility of raising children ( Uttal 1993). The messages society sends are mixed. On the one hand, society sends a message which reinforces the primacy of domesticity in women’s lives, and on the other hand, it also stresses the importance of women’s employment, as it did during World War II.

FIGURE 1

LEVELS OF SOCIAL ANALYSIS IN CHILD CARD

Expenditures on Child Care Arrangements

Parental expenditures for child care are substantial. The National Child Care Survey (Hofferth, Brayfield, Deich, and Holcomb 1990) found that employed mothers with a preschool child spent an average of $63 (10% of family income) per week and unemployed mothers spent $35 (6% of family income) a week. For those with school age children, the costs were $30 (5% of family income) and $20 (4% of family income) per week respectively.

METHODOLOGY

In identifying a methodology to study the phenomenon of child care I was guided by the axioms of the naturalistic paradigm (Lincoln and Guba 1985, p.37). I quote the axioms because they are useful in understanding how I chose the methodology for this research:

Realities are multiple, constructed, and holistic.

Knower and known are interactive, inseparable.

Only time and context-bound hypotheses are possible.

All entities are in a state of mutual simultaneous shaping, so that it is impossible to

distinguish

causes from effects.

Inquiry is value bound. . .

According to Sandra Harding (1987, as cited in Uttal 1993), it is important to understand the differences between methods, methodology, and epistemology. Methods are tools used to collect and analyze information, methodology is the researcher’s logic for the choice and use of particular methods, and epistemology considers the assumptions and/or world view that guides the researcher in the questions asked and how the analyses are done.

Epistemology, Methodology, and Methods

The epistemological basis of this research is the view that there are multiple coexisting realitie. I have used the realities Uttal identifies for her research. They are material and historical reality, ideological reality, and constructed meaning. Uttal defines material and historical reality as the most common and predictable patterns of social practices of societies which can vary from society to society. For example, division of labor by gender and capitalism as the basis of the economy are two representations of material and historical reality. Ideological reality is the partial vision of the material and historical reality. For example, if one’s material reality is that there is a division of labor on the basis of gender, this sexual division of labor will be perceived as "the natural order," "sexism," or "skill-based segregation" depending on one’s particular social location in relation to society as a whole. Constructed reality is the reality that each individual constructs on the basis of highly particular meanings from both the material and ideological realities. I have concentrated my research on the reality as constructed by mothers. The constructed meanings of the consumption of child care have been collected and understood by in-depth interviews.

IN-DEPTH INTERVIEWS

The interview structure followed in this method of data collection is the unstructured format, which is non-standardized and the interviewer does not seek any normative responses, but rather a reaction to the issues raised by the interviewer. According to Dexter (as quoted by Lincoln and Guba 1985, p. 268), this form of interviewing involves stressing the interviewee’s definition of the situation, encouraging the interviewee to structure his or her account of the situation, and letting the interviewee introduce to a great extent his or her ideas of what are relevant.

Choice of Interviewees

There are two concerns that are dominant in the criticisms of qualitative research, and these pertain to the choice of a sample. The first is the non-random sampling method, and the second is the small sample size. These criticisms arise from the concerns of representativeness and generalizability, namely who do the findings represent, and does the sample reproduce the researchers’ social world or is it generalizable to the larger world?

I addressed this problem by increasing the diversity of my sample so that I would have the opportunity of getting many perspectives. To maximize my sample I did not choose a single organizational site from which to locate interviewees. Secondly, I used a number of dimensions to choose my interviewees, these included ethnicity, type of child care chosen, and occupation of the mother ( Uttal 1993). I interviewed eleven mothers, of whom two were undergraduate students, one was a doctoral student, two were computer analysts, four were clerical and secretarial workers, one was a marketing manager and one was a university professor. The ethnicity of the respondents was also different, five were Caucasians, three were African-American, two were Asian-Indian and one was Japanese-American. The child care facilities used included family care and day care centers. Maximizing the diversity of my sample allowed me to get the fullest picture of the meaning of "consumption of child care" with variety and contrast used as criteria.

Interview Process

Respondents were informed of the purpose of the research, and they were assured that confidentiality would be maintained. Interview sessions ranged from an hour to an hour and a half in duration, during which I asked the mothers about their child care experiences. Questions included: how they located their care arrangements, any stories they had to tell me about their children, and feelings in general about the relationship with their care providers. Follow up and probing questions were bilt into the format of the interview ( Tepper 1994).

"Human as Instrument"

I used myself as "human as instrument" (Lincoln and Guba 1985), because of the appropriateness of this method for naturalistic inquiry. By using this method I could be responsive to all the personal and environmental cues, adapt to different situations and collect information from different perspectives, summarize data during the interview and get feedback from the respondent, and lastly capture the holistic nature or gestalt of the phenomena ( Folkes and Kiesler 1991; Lincoln and Guba 1985). I used three styles of interviewing: active listening, interactional interviewing, and analytic interviewing (Reinharz and Davidman 1992).

Coding and Analysis

In keeping with the naturalistic paradigm, I did not work with any a priori theory or variables rather I hoped that these would emerge from the inquiry. Therefore, the interviews were analyzed inductively. The coding of the transcripts was done by identifying all the themes, problems, and opportunities. Analysis of the data was done through two iterations. In the first iteration all the themes were identified, and in the second iteration the themes were grouped into mutually exclusive categories. The process of iteration helps in induction by developing concepts and constructs from data. Further, by utilizing the "back and forth and part and whole" process (Spiggle 1994; Tepper 1994), a more unified interpretation was obtained. In order to bring in some level of objectivity, a second researcher who was not involved in the study was asked to study the transcripts and identify the themes, problems, and opportunities (Eisenhardt 1989). Thus, specific raw units of information were analyzed and interpreted to arrive at categories of information that reflected the issues and themes in the consumption of child care. Finally, I used the technique of triangulation for improving the probability that the findings and interpretations will be found more credible by using a second investigator to verify the contents of the transcriptions of the interviews.

EXPERIENCES OF MOTHERS

In my interviews I found that the overarching concern of mothers was with the continuity between the child’s home and the environment at the care facility. I found mothers looking for themselves in care providers and for features of their homes in the care settings. In the minds of the mothers, the ideal care centers are their homes and the ideal care givers themselves. In my analysis and interpretation of data I found the following themes: process of finding and maintaining child care, differences between family care and day care, conceptualizing and identifying trust, reasons for finding child care, social and market relationships, and information systems.

Finding and Maintaining Care Arrangement

Caring for young children continues to be women’s work. All the women I interviewed were the ones who had found child care for their children. Besides the gendered division of responsibility, reasons cited for this include lack of expertise in men, and lack of confidence that the men will have the skills required to locate and assess child care facilities. However, after the choice was narrowed down, the fathers were consulted.

Search for facilities is hampered by the lack of knowledge of the range of options available. Most often the women depended on their network of friends, work colleagues, and relatives. One respondent consulted her mother from whom she got the name of the center. Referrals are taken very seriously. Some of the comments made by respondents included:

My care giver goes to the same church I do . . .

My best friend has her two children at this center, so it was natural for me to send mine to the same. . . .

However, one respondent went about the search process in a professional manner. She called all the child care centers in her geographical area. This is what she said:

I had figured out how much I could afford, so the choice was narrowed down. I went to all the centers in my list and talked to the care givers. In most cases I would observe how the person behaved. How she would settle disputes between children, find distractions for them, attend to their needs. One time a toddler was hanging onto her legs and fussing. I liked what the care giver did, she picked up the toddler and rubbed her back. Of course I considered their schedules, meal plans, you know what they served for lunch and snacks, their policy on sick children. I left nothing to chance.

Mothers search for themselves in their care givers and want to replicate their home environment for their children. One mother visited the care giver on a Saturday so that she could observe how the care giver dealt with her own children. Another mother was very particular to send her child to a clean and tidy place. This is what she said:

I wanted a woman who was soft spoken and had a gentle nature, after all I was entrusting my four-month-old child to a woman who would be the mother for those hours.

(While she was talking to me, I realized why she was so insistent on these qualities, this mother had the softest voice and the gentlest manner of speaking).

One mother had a very realistic attitude toward her care arrangement. This is what she said:

Sure, like everyone I wanted a place that was reasonable, convenient, stimulating, full of warmth and caring, and also safe. I wanted care provided by trained, competent, and loving care givers, just like I would, but finding such care is impossible. So what do I do, I get realistic, have fewer expectations and become extra vigilant. I know I can’t have it all. . . .

Differences Between Family Care and Day Care Centers

Mothers choose family care for their infants and younger children. Of the four mothers I spoke to, two of them chose family care for their child when he or she was an infant and when the child was older (could eat by herself, was potty trained, and could speak) they opted for day care. Mothers in articulating their reasons for family care selection spoke of the importance of a "homelike" environment for their infants and younger children. They looked for a provider who would keep their children safe and tend to their everyday needs. Mothers spoke of the need for the children to play by themselves, learn to be left alone for periods of time, to be able to amuse themselves, and above all for the need for "warmth, love and intimacy." One mother describes her child’s family care arrangements as follows:

My child gets a family like atmosphere. She plays for a while, draws, reads. Then they have lunch and after lunch it is quiet time. At 3:00 in the afternoon the provider’s children return from school and then Megan gets to play with older children-much like her own family, I mean brothers and sisters, when she has one (laughs).

In inquiring about the reasons for finding day care, I was told by mothers that they wanted to have some structure in their children’s lives. They wanted their children to be able to play with other childen, share toys, and be socialized. One mother emphasized learning the alphabets and development of social skills. Mothers also stressed the importance of discipline in their young children. They gave importance to the following: not hitting other children, table manners, eating on their own, playing in a group, respecting others’ property, and asking for some thing when they need it, rather than grabbing.

Conceptualizing and Identifying Trust

Trust, the ability to use the services of day care with feelings of satisfaction and peace of mind, seems to be an overarching concern with the mothers I interviewed. Many economists, psychologists, sociologists, and management theorists appear united on the importance of trust in the conduct of human affairs (Hosmer 1995). Trust is "vital for maintenance of cooperation in society and necessary as grounds for even the most routine, everyday transactions" (Zuker, as cited in Hosmer 1995, p. 389). According to Butler and Cantrell (1984), there are five specific components of trust, or characteristics of people. These dimensions are (1) integrityC the reputation for honesty and truthfulness on the part of the trusted individual; (2) competenceC the technical knowledge and the interpersonal skill needed to perform the job; (3) consistencyC the reliability, predictability, and good judgement in handling situations; (4) loyaltyC benevolence or the willingness to protect, support, and encourage others; and (5) opennessC mental accessibility, or the willingness to share ideas and information freely with others.

In my interviews I observed the display of some of the dimensions of trust. One respondent told me the following:

Initially I would leave Anna, who was four months old at that time, with my sitter. I started using the services of a sitter in the fall. However as the days began to get cold, I found it very difficult and heart breaking to take a sleeping Anna all covered in blankets to her house. One day I was shocked when my sitter told me that she would come over to my house and be there till Anna got up. After Anna got up, the sitter would change her and take her to the sitter’s own house. From that day onwards my discomfort and feelings of guilt decreased. In fact, we became friends. My sitter would often come over to my house to pick up milk or juice for Anna.

In the above case I found shades of all dimensions of trust were manifested in the relationship. Specifically, the care giver established trust by being competent in the interpersonal skill needed to perform the job, in her good judgment in handling situations, and in her openness to be willing to be creative in solving problems. To me her ability to be flexible and offer to watch Anna at her client’s home was an act of creativity and openness and an important basis for trust.

In some cases mothers viewed things like regulation, licensing, and professionalism as symbols of trust. One mother said this:

Most of my friends get their mothers and mothers-in-law to baby sit. They feel they can trust them. I don’t think blood relationship is enough or the only criterion for trust. I mean a regulated place is more likely to be inspected for safety. I know these providers are professional, I mean they attend classes. I look at their schedules and know what activities my Katie had done. . . . Clearly for this mother trust is a function of being sure she gets what she wants and regulation is viewed as a reason to trust the center. Professionalism, training and regulation are viewed as symbols of trust, in that they convey attributes of competence, reliability and consistency to the mother.

Social and Market Relationships

I found that one of the areas of conflict between the mother andthe care provider was in the nebulous realm of child care relationship. According to Nelson (1992), both mothers and providers would prefer a market relationship with clearly defined obligations, rules, and social distance. One mother described her choice of a center because of the following:

I checked out places that had a professional accreditation. You know I wanted to be certain, professionalism meant the staff would be trained, follow good business practices, insist on children being immunized, have a schedule for payment. I did not want to mess with getting friendly and all that.

In the description of the care arrangements I found that mothers negotiated with the providers. They agreed about hourly or weekly fees, supply of snacks and hot meals, supply of diapers, and extra fees for late pick-ups. In many ways both parties mimic the form of a contractual relationship. Child care providers see themselves as professionals who provide a service. However, both mothers and providers realize that a full description of their relationship is rarely so simple. I found that mothers expect and hope for a relationship that goes beyond a market exchange. Mothers spoke of diffused obligations, the role of trust and emotional attachment care givers and children felt for each other. One respondent spoke of problems and confusion of expectations in the following manner:

. . . I was surprised when after a few weeks, my care giver told me not to bring food, juice and milk for Uma. When I offered to pay instead, she was offended and said "How much does Uma eat anyway?" You know I should have been happy that I had found a care giver who was so generous and loving, but I was uncomfortable. I hoped she was more professional; I was worried when she would tire of this decision of hers.

Another mother expressed her confusion in her expectations from her care provider in the following manner:

I was very upset when I realized that I had been charged for the five minutes I was late in picking up my child from day care. She was so good to my child and Ryan loved her very much, so I imagined that she would not be so business like!

Thus, these two sets of norms and expectations generate significant ambiguity and conflict in the mothers’ relationship with their care providers.

Communication and Information Systems

Mothers who sent their children to day care centers emphasized the importance of information systems maintained by the centers. One mother told me how detailed the daily information sheet was. She told me that, by looking through the sheet, she was able to get a very clear idea of her child’s day. She got information like nap times, quantity of milk consumed, food eaten, mood disposition, and any non normal changes in the child’s health. Mothers feel that by looking at these reports, they are sharing in the daily routine of their children. Further, they attached values of professionalism to centers who had a detailed reporting system.

Communicating with the care givers is viewed as important by some respondents, while some feel they need to be professional, and so maintain minimum level of communication. Being able to talk to the care providers made the mothers feel they were not missing out in the daily life of their children. Some mothers became friends and learned many things from their care givers. One mother described it very well:

I would be very tired by the time I went to pick up Sam, so it was very natural for me to flop down on the floor and breast feed my son. Soon I began talking to the care giver and she would fill me up with the little details of Sam’s day. What he did how much he ate, slept. If I remember right, I learnt most of my mothering from those ladies. You know when to see a doctor, what to do when Sam had a cold. One time I remember I was frustrated because Sam was unable to sleep through the night. I talked to my care giver and followed her suggestions, they helped. I felt very comfortable with this center.

DISCUSSION

Overall I found that mothers’ satisfaction was associated with (1) their child’s experience with the care arrangement, namely the provider’s warmth, daily activities, attention the child receives, discipline, and opportunities for learning; (2) the features of the center, namely amount of space, security, safety, cleanliness, and atmosphere; (3) communications, verbal, written and informal; and (4) quality of interactions with providers. I found it surprising that the mothers I interviewed did not find important, and therefore did not mention (very often ), concerns such as cost, location of facility, and flexibility of hours and rules. My understanding is that these issues are important and do influence the choice of a care arrangement, but once an arrangement has been made, the mothers are more concerned with factors that influence the happiness and well being of the child. To summarize, the phenomenon of consumption of child care can be understood from two perspectives: one is the structural perspective and two is the process perspective (see figure 2).

Structural Perspective

Family-based care was normally chosen for infants and toddlers. Mothers chose this type of arrangement because they wanted to replicate the atmosphere of a home. The qualities desired included: warmth, caring and flexible schedules. In short family-based care can be viewed as extension of the child’s family, with the care provider often extending her mothering role to the children.

Center based care on the other hand is chosen when the child is older and has developed some social and motor skills. Mothers chose centers because they viewed them as professional. Being professional meant that the centers would be regulated, therefore checked by a licensing authority. The staff would be trained in child care philosophies and in child rearing techniques. Mothers valued the educational and leisure activities and a sense of structure, these activities lent to their child’s lives.

Process Perspective

From a process point of view, child care can be viewed as a social or an economic exchange. Mothers who spoke of these phenomena as a social exchange valued features like the nature, personality, and manners of the care giver. They placed emphases on the relationship they developed with the care giver. For these mothers’ trust was implicit in the social relationship with the care arrangement and the provider.

Mothers who viewed this phenomenon as a market exchange emphasized the professional and structural characteristics of the centers: the schedules, educational programs, play and leisure activities, philosophy of child care and equipment. For these mothers the contract they had with the center and the explicit characteristics were important to establish trust.

Clearly, choice of and satisfaction with a care arrangement is dependent on the mother’s philosophy and what she thinks is important for her children. A successful relationship between a provider and a mother will depend on a match between a mother’s expectation, whether it is a market or a social relationship and the structural and process or explicit and implicit characteristics the arrangement provides.

IMPLICATIONS FOR CONSUMER BEHAVIOR

The findings from this research have implications for consumer behavior, specifically in the service industry. According to Arnould and Price (1993), the model of choice and satisfaction in consumer behavior is based on defined expectations and choice of an alternative in terms of its ability to satisfy expectations. Two assumptions are implied in this model: one is that consumers have expectations and second is that satisfaction is a function of deviations from the expected. My research in the consumption of child care shows that consumers are not so clear about the expectations they have from this service. Expectations are confusing, contradictory and unclear. This is seen in the conflict between the norms of social exchange and market exchange that are evident in the mother/ provider relationship most commonly seen in family based care. However, this conflict is reduced in day care settings where the relationship is formal and expectations between the parties is contractual.

Trust

Experiences of mothers enable both users and providers of child care to understand what the dimensions of trust are, and the many ways in which trust can be displayed, established, broken, and reinforced. This research shows that trust is developed when expectations of a consumer are met. In some instances, acts of ingenuity, intelligence, or critical thinking seem to have been the points where a mother decides that the evidence of those unique behaviors is enough for her to trust the care giver. Finally trust building issues of consistency, dependability, and competence are emphasized.

FIGURE 2A

MODEL OF STRUCTURAL PERSPECTIVE

FIGURE 2B

MODEL OF PROCESS PERSPECTIVE

Affect

The research shows the importance of features such as setting, process, and the mother/provider relationship in determining consumer satisfaction. Arnould and Price (1993) write that service quality literature has primarily focused on the technical and functional aspects of a service. But in order to be effective, service deliverers must concentrate on process elements along with structural elements. This research shows that in order to be effective, a service encounter that is dependent on affect must transcend the purposive, task oriented and commercial nature of the ordinary service encounters (Arnould and Price 1993).

In summary, this research throws light on boundary open, temporally extended service encounters where expectations are vague and satisfaction is complex (Arnould and Price 1993). It emphasizes the importance of relationships between client and provider, and shows the dependency element in the relationship. It also shows that this relationship is characterized by the active participation of the consumer. Finally, it shows how consumption of some services is highly subjective, interpretive, vague, complex, and affective (Parsuraman, Ziethaml, and Berry 1985).

CONCLUSION

The number of women in the work force has tripled over the last forty years and the proportion of working mothers of young children has grown four times (Moen 1992).This significant social transformation has had an impact on a number of our institutions including the need for child care services. It was for this reason I thought it would be important to understand the characteristics of child care services. I choose to construct the meaning of this consumption from the mother’s point of view.

The phenomenon of child care needs to be addressed from many perspectives, the macro, and the micro. I have concentrated on the meso perspective. One limitation of this research is that it has focussed on satisfaction issues and neglected issues of dissatisfaction. I recognize that micro-subjective issues of feelings, emotions, and stress are an important par of the constructed reality and should be addressed in subsequent research as should the historical construction of the child care phenomenon.

Despite the dominant ideology of domesticated motherhood, the reality is that most families require two incomes. The employment of women reflects, in part declining wages and a desire for a higher standard of living. In my research, I went to the mothers and asked them what their experiences with child care had been. I listened to their stories and tried to understand the reality and the meanings they ascribed to the different aspects with the intention of getting a first hand experience of the phenomenon. I thought a phenomenological approach was essential because volumes have been written about the economics of child care, but very few studies actually attempted to construct and describe the phenomenon from the mother’s perspective.

Findings from this research will help the consumers, and providers, to understand the concerns and issues that are critical to this phenomenon. An alternate view point of the care providers is needed to understand their point of view and the issues they think are important. This way one can develop a complete picture and understand the relationship in its totality.

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