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‘A developing country’: Why do so few Swiss children attend childcare?

Switzerland has the second-lowest childcare attendance rate of all OECD countries. High costs, tax policy and conservative family attitudes are to blame.

A child plays with toys behind a white curtain
Switzerland has the second lowest rate of childcare attendance in the OECD. Why? Photo by Kelli McClintock on Unsplash

Switzerland sits second last in the most recent OECD rankings for early childhood education, placing ahead only of Turkey in the 38 nation bloc. 

The figures take into account the percentage of children aged three to five who are enrolled in early childhood education. 

In Switzerland, around 50 percent of children in that age bracket are enrolled in day care or similar educative facilities. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

In other OECD nations like France, Ireland, Israel and the UK, this rate is at 100 percent. The OECD average is 88 percent. 

In Switzerland, children of wealthy families are much more likely to attend day care, which has the effect of entrenching educational inequality. 

As a result, Switzerland has one of the largest gaps in reading abilities between wealthy and disadvantaged groups of any OECD nation. 

Early childhood education is seen as essential not only for teaching many of the fundamental skills that will become important during schooling, but also for basic social skills. 

Social Democratic National Councilor and former teacher Matthias Aebischer told Swiss news site 20 Minutes this meant many Swiss children, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, were forced to catch up on other students when entering school. 

“Some children have no social behaviour because they are in front of the PC or television all day,” Aebischer said.

“These children can hardly speak in kindergarten or still wear nappies, you can never make up for that.

“We have the best education system in the world, but at pre-kindergarten level we are a developing country.”

Educator Dominik Büchel told 20 Minutes it was not easy for children to then catch up when they arrive at primary school. 

READ MORE: How to save money on childcare in Switzerland

“In early childhood, a lot of things are already set; the biological development of the brain, for example, is already in full swing after birth,” Büchel said. 

Early childhood education is therefore essential for “acquiring knowledge and social behaviour in a playful way, learning how to communicate correctly and how to behave in a group.”

Aebischer launched a parliamentary motion to call upon the federal government to provide more support for the cantons to keep childcare costs down. 

Why do so few Swiss children attend daycare? 

As with most things in Switzerland, the answer comes down to money – although the country’s conservative culture can also play a part. 

Switzerland has the highest net costs for childcare of any country in the OECD. In Switzerland, the costs of childcare for a two-child family with parents earning an average wage are just under 30 percent of the total household income. 

By comparison, the cost is above 20 percent of net household income in only two other countries – while the OECD average is ten percent. 

A consequence of this is that a greater deal of pressure is exerted upon parents to ensure one of the parents – most commonly a woman – stays home to care for the children. 

When combined with other factors in Switzerland, such as the relatively minimal paternity leave allowances and a tax system which can penalise two parents who both decide to work, this often means one parent stays home to care for the kids. 

READ MORE: Does marriage make financial sense in Switzerland?

Another major reason is the prevalence of conservative attitudes in Switzerland, whereby family care is prioritised over organised daycare.

Toni Bortoluzzi, from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, opposes the plan and said being cared for by grandparents was more important than daycare. 

Bortoluzzi said children taken care of by their grandparents would not have any disadvantages in comparison with daycare children. 

The former MP also said compulsory daycare had no place in Switzerland. 

“We’re not in the GDR, where everyone had to go to daycare. I am a freedom-loving person and it is the freedom of parents to decide for themselves how they want to raise their child.”

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REVEALED: What are Zurich’s most popular baby names?

Zurich’s most popular baby names from 2021 have been revealed. A strong trend towards short names has emerged - and there’s barely an Urs or Ursula in sight.

REVEALED: What are Zurich’s most popular baby names?

On Thursday, Zurich council published its list of most popular baby names in 2021. 

During 2021, 5,251 babies were born across the canton, which is Switzerland’s most populous. 

On top of the list for boys was Noah, with 27 of the boys born last year receiving the biblical name. 

The leader for the girls was a little more controversial, with two different names laying claim to the crown. 

While 28 of the girls born in Zurich last year were called Olivia, there were 44 girls born in total with a variation of Sophia/Sofia. 

REVEALED: The most popular baby name in each Swiss canton

Short names dominated both lists, with Emma, Anna, Ella and Mia ranking high for girls, alongside Leo, Louis and Theo for boys. 

Another trend is that diversity is on the slide in Zurich, with fewer names given than in previous years. 

Swiss tabloid Blick reports that while 15 years ago there were 62 different names for every 100 people, there were less than 50 (48 for girls and 47 for boys) in 2021. 

Middle names are also on the rise in Switzerland, with 57 percent having one in 2021 compared to 48 percent in the 1990s. 

How does this compare to Switzerland? 

Although the 2021 figures haven’t been released for Switzerland, those from 2020 showed Noah was popular across the country as the favourite boys name. 

Olivia however was not even in the top five for girls names in Switzerland, where Mia, Emma and Mila were the most popular. 

Much like pretty much everything in Switzerland, there are significant differences between linguistic regions. 

In total, there were 461 Mias born in Switzerland last year, followed by 407 Emmas and 350 Milas.

Switzerland saw 507 Noahs born last year, followed by 372 Liams and 359 Matteos.

Mia and Noah are the most popular names in German-speaking Switzerland as well as in the country as a whole, which is of course helped by the fact that around 60 percent of Switzerland speaks German.

French-speaking Switzerland, also known as Romandie, saw Gabriel and Emma top the charts in 2020.

Sofia claimed top prize in the Italian-speaking part of the country, while Leonardo was far and away the biggest winner among the boys.

The situation is slightly different among Switzerland’s foreigners, with many opting to stick with names popular in their home countries, rather than those in Switzerland. 

READ MORE: What are the most popular baby names among foreigners in Switzerland?