The difficulty of obtaining good, affordable day care is well known as a problem afflicting the working poor. But increasingly, middle- and upper-middle-class parents are finding that day care is hard to find or access and that even when it is available it is startlingly costly. Among the mothers I spoke to, one sent her daughter to a day care proprietor where the owner
secretly had another woman mind all eight babies all day long; another signed up for a slot at a local day care when she was newly pregnant. Her daughter is now 5, and she is still on the wait list.
The cost and the scarcity of day care has helped create what the sociologist Joya Misra calls “the motherhood penalty.” While women without children are closer to pay equity with men, women with children are lagging behind because they find that working doesn’t always make sense after considering the cost of child care.