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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: Which city has Switzerland’s cheapest beer?

Anyone looking for a cheap pint in Switzerland is likely to struggle no matter where they are, but there are still good deals to be had for a cold, frosty one.

REVEALED: Which city has Switzerland’s cheapest beer?

Some research carried out in Switzerland is more important to consumers than others.  

This one definitely fits under the ‘news you can use’ category.

A recent survey conducted by consumer website Hellosafe compared the price of a half a litre of beer in 29 cities in different cantons.

The prices come from 2022 and have incorporated recent spikes in cost for beer producers. 

READ MORE: Seven beers to try in Switzerland

Where is Switzerland’s cheapest beer? 

The study found that one of the cheapest pints, at 5.22 francs, can be had in Aarau, followed by Bern  (5.92).

While it is one of the world’s most expensive cities, a big mug of beer in Zurich costs “only”  6.96 francs, four cents less than in another relatively inexpensive location, the Valais capital of Sion.

Where is Switzerland’s most expensive pint of beer? 

Beer lovers in the west of Switzerland would be better off sticking to wine, with French-speaking Switzerland charging the most when it comes to beer anywhere in the country. 

The priciest half-litres are in Geneva (7.72 francs) and Lausanne (7.96).

Reader question: Can you drink in public in Switzerland?

Next on the list are Basel and Davos, which may appear to have very little in common with each other besides beer costing CHF7.03 per pint. 

What does the future hold? 

The study also looked ahead at how the war in Ukraine is likely to increase the cost of cereals used to manufacture beer, impacting the price of the end product.

Grain prices in Switzerland are expected to rise by 4 percent per tonne by the end of 2022, which will see price increases in several parts of the country. 

Accordingly, the price of a pint in Lausanne could increase by 32 cents and reach CHF 8.28. 

If Hellosafe’s estimates are correct, then the price of beer will increase the least in Olten, Langenthal, Chur and Arbon.

Beer in Switzerland

While Switzerland may be known internationally more for wine, beer has seen a strong surge in interest in recent years – particularly since the pandemic. 

Switzerland now boasts the highest density of breweries anywhere in Europe, with the Covid crisis a major factor in transforming the country into a beer hub. 

READ MORE: How the Covid crisis led to a boom in Swiss beer production

In 2020, 80 new breweries were established in Switzerland. 

Switzerland now has 1,212 breweries – which gives it a higher ratio of breweries to people than any of the other big brewing nations in Europe, including Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Belgium. 

Just ten years ago, Switzerland had only 246 breweries, while in 1990 there were only 32 breweries in the entire country, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung reports.