Swiss childcare: Is this the real reason Swiss moms choose not to go back to work full time?

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Let’s talk about Swiss childcare. Or better formulated, let’s talk about the very challenging and expensive Swiss childcare.


For all those mums, like me, who do not have family close by, and who therefore do not benefit from the help of a grandmother or other relatives, you have the big challenge of managing your child day care alone with your partner. You have to organize your days and weeks like a minister: breakfast, bring the children to school, commuting, work, meetings (or business trips), and back home for bath time, dinner and bedtime. And for the lucky mums like me, you can share most of those tasks with your partner. Mum life is wonderful, but we must not underestimate the energy we have to invest in this organization. Well organized and smooth child day care is essential in order for us to go back to work and be able to concentrate on our working tasks and career.


While pregnant with my child, several mothers advised me to book the day care way in advance, like 4-5 months before the child was even born. Following this advice, my husband and I looked for our day care options. We visited 3 facilities, considered pros and cons and signed the contract with one when I was 6 months pregnant. My child started only 8 months later (note that we registered our son under the name “Baby”, since he still didn’t have one).

As the well-organized person I am, I planned the settling-in period during the last weeks of my maternity leave and found a nanny to help us in the evenings. When I started working again, everything was settled. The daily routine of a family of 3, dealing with it all (chicken pox, flu, business trips, some social life, sport…) alone is quite tough, but somehow, we managed.


Reality kicked in quite quickly: the final bill is not for everyone’s budget:

  • Between 2000.- and 2600.- per month (per child!) in day care or for a day mother, at least 3500.- for a fulltime nanny. Available options and costs can fluctuate a lot depending on where you live (check some stats here 1* and here 3*)
  • A couple of 100 CHF/month for a cleaner
  • A few extra 100 CHF /months for the nanny/baby sitter in case of illness, social events or other.
  • Countless moments of stress due to late pick up after a meeting, panic attacks when child care calls because your child is sick, or other unplanned episodes…

As a parent, you want your child to have the best care and the least amount of stress possible so you don’t think so much about the cost and you try to organize what is best for them. Your children are the most important thing in the world, right? However in Switzerland the costs for this is quite high and it is just not possible to ignore it.

Everything ran smoothly until we decided to move to another town. You cannot plan a move 8 months in advance. We had 3 months. 3 VERY stressful months. First concern was the childcare. I started asking and calling all day care centers in the region and there were waiting list of more than 6 months for the private ones, and an impossible waiting time for the public ones. (The response was: You can register him and we will call you when there is place available. Maybe in 6 or 7 months, maybe more, we don’t know). Yep, there aren’t enough day care places *2.

After 2 weeks of intense search and various discussions, I found a day care, but my son could start only one month after the move. This time, there was no option to pick the one that best fitted our needs, we just had to take what was available. Then we had to plan the move, 1 month of full time nanny, 3 weeks settling-in period… All the while both of us were working full time.


When, finally, we managed to organize our weeks, and we began to enter a pseudo routine, I was exhausted and frustrated. I asked myself if maybe it was the Swiss system that was pushing women to stay home. During the whole process, I felt like me working was some sort of a luxurious wish: why shall I work and spend so much money when I could enjoy motherhood at home for free?


Apparently my reflections were not that far from the reality.


Following a research study of INFRAS and SEW of St.Gallen University (*2) high costs and low availability of day care could be the main reasons why women are working part time or stop working all together.

Some considerations:


  • 6 month waiting list for childcare in the Zurich region is due to lack of availability. Apparently in Switzerland we have an availability of 11% of full time day care for children under 3 years old and our German and French neighbours have more than 20% (*2 and 3*). Despite some political efforts in the last 10 years and a federal program aimed to improve this problem, we are a long way from a good situation (*4).


  • More than 2000.- CHF/month for full time childcare. The weight on the family budget is very high. There are some regions that are a little less expensive, like canton Neuchatel and Basel. But ultimately, in terms of percentage of family revenue, Swiss families pay the most in Europe for child care (*2, 3, 5). Nevertheless, Swiss quality is great, and that is obviously most important.


  • .Income Tax reductions for childcare are very limited. And because we are in a federal country, it varies from region to region.


  • Very few employers are helping families by supporting childcare or opening a childcare in their facility. Still, offering flexible working hours and home office can be very beneficial. Unfortunately this flexibility is not so common in the Swiss work force (more info here ).

Basically, if you don’t have family support close by, the bill in terms of energy and budget can be very high. No wonder most Swiss mums decide to reduce their working hours or stop working all together (see also this post – Children and career: a mission in Switzerland) .

For non-skilled jobs the costs of going back to work are higher than the benefit of your earnings. How can that be normal?


You are forced to be creative (and VERY well organised) to find the best solution for your family and very motivated to keep your career on track despite all those obstacles. As Barbara Stupp mentioned in a previous post you need to have some perspective and not think only of the short term.


I have yet to face the kindergarten years with its 14 weeks of holidays per year, the free afternoons every week and lunch time at home (see also Interview with Sara Müller).


Here then, an open question for all working mothers like me:

If you come from abroad: was the childcare system in your country more family oriented? Do you have any good ideas on how to improve the Swiss system?

And if you are a Swiss parent: what would you like to ask the Swiss politicians in order to improve our conditions?


All proposals are open. Comment below or send me an email with your thoughts and ideas.




* 1.

*2.  INFRAS und dem Schweizerischen Institut für empirische Wirtschaftsforschung (SEW) der Universität St.Gallen  «Familienergänzende Kinderbetreuung und Gleichstellung»


*3.  Les enfants romands coûtent moins cher que les alémaniques , Le Temps, Seven Peca, 13.12.2016

*4.  Une aide pour que les crèches coûtent moins cher aux patents, La Tribune de Genève, Caroline Zuercher,

*5.  Credit Suisse Study:  Disposable Income – Living, Commuting, Childcare: Where’s the Least Expensive Place to Live?




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